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Retread steelhead back in upper Rogue

Christmas came a bit late, but it came in force Tuesday for upper Rogue River anglers looking for a fresh infusion of not-so-fresh summer steelhead.

Cole Rivers Hatchery technicians recycled 1,785 excess summer steelhead Tuesday when they trucked the hatchery fish downstream and released them at the TouVelle State Park boat ramp and along the banks of the Denman Wildlife Area.

That brings to 3,377 the number of "retread steelhead" that have been recycled into the Rogue for anglers to get another crack at them this season, which is winding down on the upper Rogue. That includes several hundred that received multiple recycle trips back downstream.

Hatchery Manager Dave Pease says he's been holding on to these fish, which are in excess of what is needed for brood stock, for an extra few weeks waiting for water conditions on the upper Rogue to drop and clear enough for anglers to get a decent shot at the retreads.

Thursday was the deadline for recycling summer steelhead, which are getting close to spawning time, and releases of adults are cut off to curb the potential of hatchery fish straying onto wild summer steelhead spawning grounds.

"This might have been our last window to get them recycled," Pease says.

The recycled fish sport a paper punch-sized hole in a gill plate to denote their rerun status, Pease says.

One smaller release truck hauled about 200 fish to the wildlife area's Modoc Unit for release, and the remaining five truckloads went to TouVelle for release there at the ramp.

Beginning today, all hatchery male steelhead that enter Cole Rivers' collection ponds will be killed, Pease says. All hatchery female steelhead will be kept, and technicians later will strip the eggs from those fish and release them, Pease says.

The strip-and-release practice gives those female steelhead a chance to survive and perhaps return next year as larger hatchery fish that may be more desirable for anglers to keep.

While Pease encourages anglers to keep their legal limit of hatchery fish, many anglers find the retreads more desirable to catch than keep because their bodies are deteriorating as they get close to spawning time.

New lakes open year-round today

Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes are two of several water bodies across Oregon that today begin their new status as year-round fishing destinations.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife opted to open these and other lakes to year-round fishing as part of last summer's effort to streamline, simplify and make Oregon's angling regulations more uniform across the state.

For decades, those lakes closed to fishing on Halloween and reopened the fourth Saturday in April, the traditional mountain trout-fishing season opener. Now that spring opener is part of the history books.

But don't expect too much New Year's Day revelry at these reservoirs. Howard Prairie is ringed in snow and is sitting at 17 percent full, while Hyatt Lake is up to a scant 12 percent full, according to the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

The streamlining effort also means that Diamond Lake's eight-trout daily limit is gone, replaced with the standard daily limit of five trout over eight inches long, but only one of them may be more than 20 inches long.

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