More than 350,000 fingerling trout splashed down in hundreds of high mountain lakes across the Cascade Range from Mount Hood to Klamath Falls this week, as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife readied the waters along the Pacific Coast Trail for hikers, anglers, fly fishermen and backpackers.
“Oregon is the only state that I know of that has such a robust high mountain fish stocking program,” said project leader Erik Moberly, ODFW fish biologist from Bend. “We want to provide a unique angling experience for backpackers and hikers who might like to catch a cutthroat or brook trout for dinner around the campfire.”
Check out ODFW’s trout stocking schedule at dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/trout_stocking_schedules
Every two years, ODFW releases fingerling trout into Oregon’s high lakes. The trout are transported mostly by helicopter in a custom-made shuttle carrying 30 individual canisters that hold a few gallons of water and up to 1,000 fingerling trout. The canisters are opened individually by remote control from inside the cockpit while the chopper hovers over a lake.
Biologists like to use three-inch juvenile fish because they can load more of them onto the aircraft and make the 100-foot fall to the lake with less trauma than larger fish, which improves survival rates. Ninety-five percent of the little fish survive the long freefall into the lake, but biologists believe they may have more difficulty surviving once they’re in the lake than larger fish. So, this year in some locations, ODFW is experimenting with larger trout to see how their overall survival compares to the younger fish.
In this way, ODFW seeds off-the-beaten-track lakes with juvenile brook, cutthroat, and rainbow trout that will live on another two years or more to become the eight inches that anglers can legally retain. With any luck, some will grow up to be 15 inches or more, which ODFW classifies as “trophy” trout.
“Trout fishing is still by far our most popular type of fishing in Oregon,” said Mike Gauvin, manager of ODFW’s Recreational Fisheries Program. “The thing about Oregon’s high lakes is there are not a lot of places in the lower 48 United States where you can have this kind of wilderness fishing experience.” It is not unusual in Oregon’s mountain lakes for anglers to have an entire lake to themselves.
High lakes fish stocking has been going on for decades. What is new is technology that makes aerial stocking highly efficient. In Oregon, biologists for each participating watershed district plot the flight paths and release sites on handheld GPS units, which they then use onboard the helicopter to help the pilot navigate directly to each lake with pinpoint accuracy and lightning speed. A helicopter crew can seed as many as 20 lakes with 20,000 trout in a single one-hour flight. In other areas, ODFW still gets trout to the outback the old-fashioned way — afoot or on horseback with the help of volunteers.
To see which mountain lakes are stocked with trout, please refer to ODFW’s online trout stocking schedule (dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/trout_stocking_schedules) which lists past releases by year and species. Anglers should bear in mind it takes two years from release to reach “catchable” or “legal” sizes, and factor that into fishing plans.