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ODFW airlifts trout to 500 high lakes

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife took to the air last week to release 345,000 trout in approximately 500 lakes throughout the Cascade mountain range, according to a news release from ODFW.

Rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout fingerlings ranging from 1 to 2 inches in length were trucked from five ODFW hatcheries to heliports at Mount Hood, Hoodoo Ski Area, Fall River Hatchery and Klamath Falls. From there they were airlifted to some of the state's most spectacular and remote fishing destinations.

"There is a lot of interest in fishing Oregon's high mountain lakes, especially this time of year," said Rhine Messmer, ODFW Recreational Fisheries Program manager for Inland Fisheries. "It can be really good fishing. The thing about Oregon's high lakes is there are not a lot of places in the lower 48 United States where you can have this kind of wilderness fishing experience."

The trout are transported by helicopter in a custom-made shuttle carrying 30 individual canisters that hold a couple gallons of water and up to 1,000 fingerlings apiece.

The canisters can be opened individually by remote control while the chopper is hovering over a lake. Biologists like to use the smaller, juvenile fish because they can make the 50- to 100-foot fall to the lake with less trauma than larger fish, which improves survival rates.

Data collected during ODFW sampling surveys have shown that once in their new environs the trout are able to establish themselves and grow to harvestable sizes, mostly in the 8- to 12-inch range, but some lakes produce trout larger than 15 inches.

"It can be very rewarding after a long hike to catch some nice trout and be able to cook them up for dinner or breakfast right out of the lake," Messmer said.

ODFW has been releasing trout in the high lakes for decades, but new technology is making aerial stocking more efficient. Biologists for each participating watershed district plot the flight paths and release sites on handheld GPS units, which they then use to help the helicopter pilot navigate directly to each lake with pinpoint accuracy.

High lakes fishing is very popular according to a survey of anglers conducted by ODFW in 2006. Of those anglers surveyed, 25 percent identified Oregon's high lakes as their preferred place to fish for trout. That equates to roughly 52,000 anglers per year, according to Messmer.

ODFW is developing a database of high lakes fisheries, which the department plans to post on its website. In the meantime, anglers are encouraged to consult with local district fish biologists for information about specific lakes.

A helicopter releases a canister of trout fingerlings into Todd Lake near Bend during a biennial high lakes stocking project administered by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.