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Hyatt Lake trout should be easy to find

ASHLAND — Trout anglers who fish from boats will face some challenges at Hyatt Lake during Saturday's traditional start of the spring trout-fishing season.

The lake will be less than half-full of water Saturday, creating boat-launch problems and boating hazards at this popular High Cascades fishing lake off Highway 66 east of Ashland.

Only the Mountain View boat ramp at the Bureau of Land Management's campground will be open and accessible to boaters — but just barely.

"There's 28 inches of water there," BLM spokesman Jim Whittington says. "It is barely over the lip of the concrete."

So it's launch at your own risk, with larger boats recommended to stay off the lake, Whittington says.

For those who can get on the water, the fishing should be some of the best for an opener since the drought years of the early 1990s.

The lake has been ice-free for weeks, and its regular complement of trout are now dispersed in about half as much water as normal, so the trout should be active and easier to find than normal.

"I'm really hoping to get a good showing of anglers this spring and early summer," says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist. "There will be plenty of bank access and access for kayaks and inflatable (boats)."

The picture is a bit more rosy at nearby Howard Prairie Lake, where water levels have held steady at 58 percent of full. The marina remains mired in muck, but a temporary dock stretches well into the lake, and the end of the boat ramp remains 11 feet under water.

"There's plenty of water to launch, and there already are six sailboats on buoys (Thursday)," says Manager Steve Lambert of the Jackson County Parks Department, which operates the resort and campground.

The resort cannot offer overnight dock moorage, "but other than that people shouldn't notice much of a difference, except there's less water in the lake."

Hyatt and Howard Prairie, along with the Jenny Creek system east of Ashland, are the last local water bodies that open to anglers on the traditional fourth Saturday of April.

Other trout destinations, such as Lost Creek Reservoir, Applegate Lake, Fish Lake, Lake of the Woods and Diamond lake, are year-round fisheries, so the last great mysteries of what to expect on opening weekend remain the two Talent Irrigation District-controlled reservoirs that feed Emigrant Lake for TID's irrigation season.

Low-water years have a dual affect for fish and fishing: They often provide excellent short-term fishing opportunities, but anglers pay for it on the back end.

Holdover trout, as well as larger fingerlings planted last fall at both reservoirs, should prove bountiful.

However, TID Manager Jim Pendleton says, the lakes could be drawn down to 20 percent or less by the end of the summer irrigation season, which takes priority over recreation at these reservoirs.

That has VanDyke considering alterations to this year's stocking schedule. Instead of the fall fingerling plant, ODFW may switch to releasing legal-sized rainbows next spring, he says.

"But that has nothing to do with the 2014 fishery," VanDyke says.

For those who get their boats launched at Hyatt Lake, there likely will be many new navigation hazards coming into play.

One of the lake's strong points is that much of the timber was left standing when Hyatt Dam was built. All that woody material creates great insect availability and structure that the trout, and illegally stocked bass, enjoy.

But the stumps could sneak up on unsuspecting boaters, Whittington says.

"The lake is so low there are a lot of hazards people need to be aware of," Whittington says. "There are new things to avoid out there."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Last year, the Bureau of Land Management built two new boat ramps at Hyatt Lake, but just one of the ramps will be usable barely when the trout season opens Saturday because the water is too low after a mostly dry winter. - MT file photo