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Mud Lake no more

It’s difficult to imagine now, but there was a time when one of Oregon’s most beautiful lakes was officially known as “Mud Lake.”

Given the lake’s crystalline water today — so clear you can see trout swimming below your boat — you have to wonder whether the original namers were blind or drunk when they applied that less-than-flattering handle to this Central Oregon body of water.

Turns out, they were neither.

It was once a far-less attractive pool.

But let’s step back a minute before returning to this odd moment in history.

The destination in question is known today as Hosmer Lake, and during the past few years, it's become one of Central Oregon’s most famous places for kayaking, canoeing and fly-fishing.

Along with clear water and good fishing, the 189-acre lake features spectacular views of South Sister (10,358 feet), Broken Top (9,175) and Mount Bachelor (9,065), all rising in dramatic splendor 36 miles west of Bend.

What really makes it stand out, though, is the way the lake weaves through channels of marshland. Birds serenade early-morning paddling trips here, and there's a feeling of adventure and isolation as you paddle through passageways in the reeds. Those who know the route can even paddle up narrow Quinn Creek to a small waterfall.

In many ways, Hosmer feels more like a river than a lake. And it’s easy to spend hours exploring without realizing how much time has passed, so tranquil is the setting.

“It’s just a cool lake,” said Shane Hostbjor, who lives near Sunriver and frequents the lake. “Because of how twisty-turning the lake is, you can feel kind of by yourself — there is a sense of being alone.”

The lake might foster the illusion of solitude, but like any beautiful place near Bend, it’s been hit by major crowds recently. Weekend afternoons bring hoards of fit and good-looking people to Hosmer Lake, often overwhelming the small parking area. They paddle kayaks and canoes and stand-up paddleboards.

The anglers, who can only fly-fish with barbless hooks, tend to show up in the early morning and leave before it gets too busy.

“I’ve been here for 18 years, and Hosmer has always been fairly popular among canoeists and kayakers,” said Brett Hodgson, Deschutes district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “But the explosive growth of Bend and the easy information of the Internet and social media is a recipe for high use.

“It’s very scenic place, there’s no doubt about it.”

Hodgson was in the middle of a semi-controversial move regarding one of Hosmer Lake’s most well-known fish. Beginning in 1958, the lake was stocked with Atlantic salmon. The idea was to create a novelty for anglers, who’d seek out the large and good-eating fish.

But over the last decade, fish biologists discovered the salmon weren’t growing as well as they had in the past, rarely reaching 16 inches or 3 to 5 pounds. So they stopped stocking Atlantic salmon in favor of cutthroat and “cranebow” rainbow trout, which are hatchery fish derived from wild redband trout found in Crane Prairie Reservoir, and known for being large and fun to catch.

“There was some opposition to losing the Atlantics, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected given the long history,” Hodgson said. “The fishing at Hosmer Lake has actually improved, even with the increased crowds.”

Hosmer has seen numerous fish cycle over the years, which brings us back to the beginning, and the origin of that odd name, Mud Lake.

It goes like this: In the first half of the 20th century, the lake was much shallower and marshier. It also was filled with a large population of carp.

The “trash fish,” as they were called back then, used to stir up the lake’s silt-covered bottom. Between the marshy lake and flopping carp, the lake would have looked far murkier than today, Hodgson said.

In 1958, a small dam was installed at the lake's outlet that allowed the lake to rise about 4 feet. The carp also were eliminated.

Those changes created the lake we know today. In 1962, the Oregon Geographic Names Board approved changing the name from Mud to Hosmer, in memory of Paul Hosmer, a longtime resident of Bend and amateur naturalist well-known in the area.

“He was one of the original proponents of using the Cascades as a recreational resource,” Steve Skelton, a member of Hosmer’s extended family, told the Bend Bulletin in 2009.

Paul Hosmer had been dead for years when the lake was renamed, but his son, Jim, had an idea how his father would feel about it.

“(Paul) never knew anything about it,” Jim told the Bulletin. “Although I can imagine him saying, ‘Mud Lake's bad enough, but Hosmer?’ ”

In the end, how the lake got its name is less important than the experience you get there today. As long as you go midweek — and ideally in the morning — Hosmer Lake offers one of the best paddling or fly-fishing experiences in Central Oregon.

To reach the lake, travel 36 miles west from Bend on Cascade Lakes Highway 46 and turn left at pointers for Hosmer Lake boat ramp.

Zach Urness is the author of the book “Hiking Southern Oregon” and can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com

Two kayakers paddle Hosmer Lake, west of Bend, which has stunning views of South Sister. Zach Urness / Statesman Journal
The clear water of Hosmer Lake in Central Oregon makes it hard to believe it used to be called Mud Lake. Zach Urness / Statesman Journal