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Outdoor Journal: Remembering an old friend

Here we are toasting the suds to an old friend on the eve of the third anniversary of his death.

An old friend for decades and decades, part of the family really. Always got together in the spring to trout fish at Howard Prairie, or sometimes Hyatt Lake. Looking back, they all feel like sunny days with plenty of hungry trout but, of course, there were whiteout days with snow blowing sideways.

He died April 23, 2016, but the fatal injuries came eight months earlier in Salem. Could see it coming, though. This disease you were fighting pretty much gobbled you up and spit you out.

Yeah, you were around New Year’s Day that year. But it wasn’t really you. More like a cold shell of you, really. The irony of all that is what puts us here today.

This is our third late-April Saturday without him. Hard to believe. But that’s reality. So raise a glass and say cheers in remembrance to the Opening Day of Oregon’s trout-fishing season.

RIP Opening Day.

This Saturday marks the third year when the fourth Saturday of April is just another Saturday.

What was a tradition for so many trout anglers throughout Oregon disappeared as collateral damage in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s house-cleaning of confusing and sometimes conflicting regulations. It was all about simplicity and consistency.

But it killed traditions.

“It was a given to go up to Hyatt Lake opening weekend,” says Bob Thomas, 78, of Medford. “I’ve been going up there 40 years, and a lot of times opening weekend was the only time I went there.”

But at least anglers like Thomas have a chance to fake it this year at Hyatt.

The Bureau of Land Management had planned not to open the campground and boat ramps at Hyatt — the only access for most trailered boats — until Memorial Day weekend.

But after hearing from diehard anglers like Thomas and others, the agency unlocked the access gate to the Mountain View ramp Wednesday, says Joel Brumm, assistant manager of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which includes Hyatt Lake.

The campground and other amenities at the lake will remain closed until Memorial Day weekend, Brumm says.

Anglers like Thomas know the best trout fishing at Hyatt is whenever the ice melts to early June — before the water warms and the rainbows can get a little sluggish.

The lake was listed this week at 44 percent full, still suffering a hangover of sorts from last year’s artificially low lake level, which was needed for crews to do seismic retrofits at Hyatt Dam.

That left the Mountain View ramp barely usable for larger boats, and Brumm says he doesn’t know how long water levels will allow the ramp to be usable.

The low water coupled with some of the highest trout stocking in years means Hyatt Lake could be a go-to spot for those revisiting the opening-day traditions of yore.

ODFW stocked 90,000 6-inch fingerlings last fall into Hyatt, the most in years, says Dan VanDyke, ODFW’s Rogue District fish biologist.

Cole Rivers Hatchery technicians needed to borrow a key to the BLM gate to stock 7,500 legal-sized rainbows there Tuesday, VanDyke says.

“Hyatt should be really good for trout,” says VanDyke, a trout-troller himself. “The water is what it is, but at least trailered boats can have access for the next month or so.”

Thomas says he might head to Hyatt Saturday in homage to his lost opener.

“I’ll hopefully get out there, but it’s supposed to be storming this weekend, you know,” Thomas says.

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

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