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Rainbow $5,000 trout derby is Saturday

Two fish now finning in Diamond Lake could win anglers $1,000 apiece Saturday as part of Southern Oregon's most popular trout-fishing derby.

The 15th annual Rainbow $5,000 trout derby, set for Saturday at Diamond Lake in eastern Douglas County, will award $5,000 in cash prizes for the heaviest rainbows caught during the event that annually draws about 1,000 participants.

The biggest rainbow turned in earns $1,000 for first place, but anyone who catches the one trout with a brown, plastic tag attached to its back will earn $1,000 as well.

That trout, dubbed the "Lithia Lunker" and sponsored by Lithia Body and Paint, is worth twice that of last year's bonus fish, which went uncaught.

And if this year's bonus trout avoids Saturday's derby anglers, it will be worth a cool grand to anyone who catches it before the end of the lake's fishing season Oct. 31.

"If no one gets it (Saturday), it will still be good for the rest of the season," says Mike McMullen of the Black Bird Sporting Shopping Center of Medford, which is the derby's main sponsor and organizer.

As of Wednesday, more than 600 anglers had registered for the derby, and that's about 10 percent more at this point than last year, McMullen says.

Cosponsored by the Mail Tribune and Diamond Lake Resort, the Rainbow $5,000 is a two-tiered contest.

The largest fish by weight will win its angler $1,000, with second place netting $750 and third place fetching $500. Prizes descend in value, with the 10th place fish netting $100. The 11th- to 20th-place finishers each will win $75, while the 21st- to 30th-place finishers will earn $50 each.

The derby entrance fee is $15, and the weigh-in will end at 3 p.m. As in past derbies, each registered contestant can weigh in only one fish.

But for those seeing dollar signs, all eyes will be on rainbow trouts' backs. They'll be looking for "foy tags," which are sometimes referred to as "spaghetti tags" because of their noodle-like appearance.

The tags are about 3 inches long and each bears a secret code denoting it as a derby-winning fish.

Green foy tags affixed to five trout will be worth $100 to whomever catches them, McMullen says. The fish with the brown tag is worth $1,000.

Those fish were caught and tagged Thursday by an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, who released them at undisclosed locations, McMullen says.

Tagged fish caught after the derby must be checked in at the resort for anglers to claim their prizes, McMullen says.

For details, call Black Bird at 541-779-5431 or Diamond Lake Resort at 1-800-733-7593.

New fire restrictions went into effect on the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River now that Oregon has ushered in its summer wildfire season.

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday enacted the traditional summer restrictions meant to curb wildfires caused by boaters, anglers and campers traveling in the lower Rogue Canyon, where most visitors camp on sand bars or crude sites.

Campfires are now banned in the section, but floaters may use commercially produced, pressurized liquid or gas stoves, and each group must carry a shovel and bucket. Also, cooking can be done only in areas naturally free of vegetation.

Charcoal briquettes in raised fire pans are allowed when used below the high-water mark from Marial downstream to the mouth of Watson Creek, the Wild and Scenic Section's lower boundary upstream of Foster Bar near Agness.

Smoking is allowed only in boats on the water or on sand or gravel bars between the river and the high-water mark, provided the area is naturally free of flammable vegetation.

Full fire restrictions for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest can be viewed at the Medford Interagency Communication Center website at http://ormic.org/index.html.

For updated fire restrictions, call 1-800-267-3126.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.