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Tiger King of Diamond Lake

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Tiger, tiger, overtake

Angler effort in this lake?

What immortal hook and net

Can claim their striped symmetry?

The answer could be William Blake, if he knew where on the south end of Diamond Lake to catch stocked tiger trout that are bending rods and amending angler interests at this Southern Oregon rainbow trout lake.

Until then, leave the poetic praises to anglers like “Fish On” John Linson, a Diamond Lake fishing legend who now sings the praises of this new sheriff in town meant to ward off intruders but is becoming a catch-and-release target of those who love big trout.

Since being stocked four years ago to keep invasive tui chub at bay, these flesh-eating tigers have become so large and feisty that those not looking to take a trout home for dinner are traveling to this eastern Douglas County lake just to hold that tiger.

“Some of these people are coming up here to catch these fish because they’re so big and beautiful,” says Linson, 66, of Prospect. “And there’s no quit in these tiger trout. They have such a fight. Last week I was up here and didn’t catch a rainbow, but I caught all tiger trout.”

And, at least for now, Da Man is cool with that.

Da Man here is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has stocked tigers to prey on chubs after a single chub showed up in a seine net in October 2015.

It was a disappointment, but not an surprise.

Tui chub — commonly used bait-fish known as “minnows” in many states — were illegally introduced at Diamond Lake. It returned after three efforts to poison them out of one of the Cascades most productive trout lakes.

As part of a multi-level assault on chubs before they could get re-established, the fish-eating tigers are the new finny James Bond, with a license to kill chub and any other invaders.

They’ve apparently done such a good job that just a handful of chub are now caught annually in net surveys, ODFW data show.

And if people like Linson would like to play with the tigers, just remember. It’s all catch-and-release because these tigers, as well as similarly stocked brown trout, have a job to do.

“We know anglers catch tiger trout in the fishery at Diamond Lake,” says Frank Drake, an ODFW fisheries biologist. “With that said, we encourage anglers that catch tigers or browns to follow good angling ethics and release them unharmed immediately.”

Tiger trout are the sterile offspring of a female brown trout and a male brook trout. They get their name from the black vertical stripes that look like nothing else in the trout world.

They are rarely found in the wild, but they have been discovered occasionally in the upper Midwest where brook trout and brown trout spawning grounds overlap. In hatcheries, they take a bucket full of brown trout eggs and dump in some brookie milt, and hatchery workers can easily get an 85-percent survival rate.

Tigers are considered a good hybrid in these cases because they pose great danger to the chub and little danger to the rest of the piscatorial world.

The bad-ass part of them is that they are fearless hunters, very willing to fin in the shallow weeds where tui chub set up shop.

ODFW stocked its first 5,000 tigers at about 7 inches long, and 13,000 fingerlings in 2016. The following year, another 20,000 similar-sized tigers went in.

Since then, 30,000 tigers and 15,000 predatory brown trout have been stocked collectively in recent years.

The tigers anglers catch at Diamond Lake are often in the 3- to 4-pound range now, says Linson, who thinks things are only going to get better.

They’re growing so fast,” Linson says. “I believe we’re going to get a 20-pounder out of here in the next couple of years.”

And if anyone is going to catch that 20-pounder, safe money is bet on Linson.

Linson has been fishing Diamond Lake religiously since 1960.

“When my grandpa first brought me up here, it was always a lake where you caught fish, fish, fish,” Linson says. “I’ve been blown off the lake. Other than that, there’s never been a bad day.”

Linson guided trout anglers for a decade, but he’s become a local celebrity after winning the $1,000 first prize in the annual Rainbow $5,000 trout derby held annually here by the Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford.

Each year, he’s caught the winning rainbow on live dragonfly nymphs he culls from other Cascade lakes. And it’s always been in the shallows of the south end, where big trout patrol the shallows for stocked fingerling rainbows or chub.

“I’ve always known the shallow end of the lake holds a lot of big fish, especially around the springs,” Linson says.

Now, “Fish On” John still partakes of Diamond Lake fishing, turning his grandsons on to these tigers.

“When the fishing’s on, I’ll come up here everyday with my grandkids,” Linson says. “We throw them all back, of course, but it’s great. Anything to keep them off their computers.”

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

John Linson releases a trout at Diamond Lake. Mail Tribune File Photo
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