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Fish early and often

Get your trout fishing in early, because area lakes aren’t expected to have much water in them this summer
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune | Howard Prairie Lake is at its lowest spring level on record, which doesn’t bode well for summer trout fishing.

ASHLAND — With Howard Prairie Lake water levels at record lows heading into what normally is the start of the spring trout-fishing season, this popular lake is so puddle-like now that it again may resemble a Gary Larson “Far Side” cartoon.

Larson’s image of two anglers in a rowboat seeing atomic mushroom clouds on the horizon and declaring that it means “no size restrictions and screw the limit” was the takeaway image of Howard’s no-limit fishery last year due to then-record low water.

Now even lower water threatens this Dead Indian Plateau reservoir again, and state fish biologists are openly mulling whether another no-limit season is on the horizon.

Remember, having bushels of stocked rainbow trout heading home in anglers’ coolers is always considered better than seeing ospreys haul away carcasses of dead fish from low, hot, mid-summer waters robbed of needed oxygen.

“We’ve done it in the past when water levels were low, and the forecast is for this year to drop as low as last year but actually get there quicker,” says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Rogue District fish biologist.

‘“Lifting the limits is an option,” VanDyke says. “We’ll have to make a decision fairly soon if we’re going to do it.”

Howard Prairie is now sitting at just 14% full and loaded with what remains of the 50,000 rainbows stocked there last fall at 6 to 7 inches long, despite low water levels.

Rainbows have shown great resilience in low Howard Prairie water the past two years, and perhaps this ability to withstand hot water will mean the Larson reprint doesn’t occur in 2022.

“Last year, I was surprised that fish survived in very, very low water at Howard,” VanDyke says.

The Howard Prairie saga is one of the main focuses anglers have on trout fishing this spring in Southern Oregon, which is gripped again with a crippling drought.

Collectively, the region’s reservoirs are at their lowest spring levels ever recorded. While it wreaks havoc on irrigators whose needs take legal precedent over reservoir recreation, low water is altering when and how many trout are getting stocked in area waters.

Most waterbodies, such as Expo Pond in Central Point and Willow Lake near Butte Falls, have received their complements of rainbows as much as a month earlier than normal.

Others, such as Agate Lake near White City, have been stocked with trout normally destined for other waterbodies because this shallow, often muddy reservoir is actually full.

And places like Howard and its companion reservoir of Hyatt Lake won’t be getting any legal-sized rainbows this year because they will likely drop to dead storage by mid-summer at the latest.

The bottom line for trout-o-philes is ... fish early and often, because this summer it could get lonely out there.

And no place will that be more true than the far upper Rogue River and Union Creek in the Union Creek area off Highway 62 in northern Jackson County.

These waters already are a prime spot for anglers to catch rainbows planted there religiously at a dozen locations each Thursday from just before Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Those areas will be getting extra trout each week because those waters will be cool, oxygenated and therefore friendly to trout and anglers through the summer.

“That’s our premier summer trout fishery, and it’s a place anglers will be able to enjoy,” VanDyke says.

As for now, Howard Prairie has become the worst-kept secret for spring trout fishing.

Ice-free and at low water levels, with 50,000 trout from last fall and a usable gravel boat ramp near the lake’s dam, Howard Prairie is the best reservoir now for trout fishing ... until it’s not.

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