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Trout rewards offered at Lost Creek

TRAIL — Lost Creek Lake trout anglers will get a chance to be citizen biologists, and possibly make some cash, during a new survey that will help determine what trout-stocking strategy works best for angling at Jackson County's largest and most popular lake.

Biologists at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife this week affixed spaghetti-like tags to the dorsal fins of 1,500 legal-sized trout and 162 14-inch "pounders" bound for the lake to determine which size trout is best suited for release here.

The first third of that study group was released Tuesday, and the remaining fish will be split between June and October releases.

Anglers who land the tagged fish are asked to report their catch to ODFW, where biologists will compare catch rates of the two groups of stocked trout. Biologists expect the enticement of a possible cash reward to increase the calls they receive.

"We're probably going to learn a lot about trout stocking in irrigation reservoirs, particularly Lost Creek," says Pete Samarin, the ODFW biologist overseeing the study.

Samarin hopes the data will show generally how long after stocking these trout start contributing to the fishery, whether catch rates rise or drop as the reservoir lowers through summer, and survival rates of 8-inch legals versus pounders.

Fish also will be split between the Taklema and marina boat ramps to see whether one release location feeds anglers better than the other. The October release will help show how trout fare when they're stocked at lower water levels.

The usefulness of the data will depend upon how many of the tagged trout get caught and reported to Samarin. So the agency has sweetened the pot for anglers to up the reporting rate.

About 5 percent of the tags are coded for $50 rewards to anglers who report their catch and turn in the tag, Samarin says.

"This helps get people a little more excited about reporting the fish they're catching," Samarin says. "It's cheaper than an actual creel survey."

The study, patterned after one in Idaho, calls for the agency not to reveal the number of $50 reward tags in the mix, because that information could skew results, Samarin says. Also, the releases aren't publicized ahead of time, which might attract more anglers and skew the data on fishing effort, he says.

Deciding which fish are best for stocking in Lost Creek isn't an issue of saving time, but feed costs, says David Pease, manager at Cole Rivers Hatchery, where Lost Creek's trout are raised.

Hatchery workers cull the biggest rainbows from the group at a young age, and they are set aside to be raised to 14 inches before release, "and then we start stuffing them," Pease says.

Pounders and legals take the same amount of time to raise, but the accelerated feeding means a one-pound trout costs $1 in feed to get it to size, while a legal costs just 33 cents in feed to reach eight inches, Pease says.

The agency has conducted similar stocking studies at other lakes with varying results.

Last year at Lake of the Woods, 20 percent of the tagged legal-sized trout were caught, while 85 percent of the trophies were caught, ODFW data show. Also, several of the tags that were placed on legals were found at pelican nests.

At Empire Lakes near Charleston, biologists found tags from legal-sized trout in nearby cormorant nests.

A previous study at Henry Hagg Lake near Hillsboro generated catch rates of 55 percent on legals and 57 percent on pounders, data show.

Anglers who catch any of the tagged fish can call ODFW at 541-826-8774. Contact information is also available at Lost Creek Lake boat ramps.

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