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Fish limits lifted at Hyatt, Howard Prairie

Howard Prairie Lake, seen Thursday, is at the lowest point in its history. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Fishing limits have been lifted at Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes so anglers can catch and keep as many trout as they want before the one-two punch of drought and scorching heat kills off all those fish.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife enacted the no-limit rules at two of eastern Jackson County’s most popular fishing destinations as part of a suite of emergency closures to help trout, steelhead and salmon survive this summer.

The Rogue River was largely bypassed in these rules because summer flows are supplemented with Lost Creek Lake releases to keep temperatures largely under lethal levels, ODFW fish biologist Pete Samarin said.

However, anglers who normally could keep spring chinook salmon they catch beginning July 1 in the upper Rogue downstream of Dodge Bridge will have to continue releasing the wild chinook they catch through July 10.

Also, the basin has largely sidestepped a 2 p.m. angling closure seen in many other Western Oregon basins to reduce stress of catch-and-release fishing during afternoon periods when streams become their hottest.

One such spot is on the lower Illinois River from Collier Creek to where it spills into the Rogue near Agness. Closing this stretch to angling at 2 p.m. offers some respite to Rogue summer steelhead and smaller “halfpounder” steelhead that often take refuge in the lower Illinois when the Rogue gets uncomfortably warm.

Also, the mainstem Rogue from Hog Creek near Merlin to Lobster Creek will close to chinook and steelhead angling at 2 p.m. daily.

The emergency closures are in effect through Sept. 30, but they will be revisited if conditions change, Samarin said.

Biologists and anglers have been looking closely at water levels in Hyatt and Howard Prairie reservoirs as the Talent Irrigation District draws down these projects, which have been plagued by low water all year.

Hyatt Lake was listed Friday at 11% full. Water temperatures up to 75 degrees have triggered a blue-green algae bloom, Samarin said.

The hot temperatures were blamed for dozens of dead trout, some of them eclipsing 14 inches, discovered Tuesday at Hyatt Lake, Samarin said.

Anglers are typically limited to five trout a day over 8 inches long, of which only one can be 20 inches or longer.

The emergency rules do not apply to any other lakes or reservoirs in Jackson or Josephine counties.

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