Oregon proposes year-round fishing at Diamond Lake

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If ice fishermen are going to freeze their butts off during future winters atop Diamond Lake, chances are they're going to kill everything they pull out of their ice holes.

At least that's what state fish biologist Laura Jackson is banking on if trout bums get their wish for a year-round fishing season at rainbow-rich Diamond Lake.

Why would you go out there for four hours and not keep what you catch?" says Jackson, the Umpqua District fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A proposal to open the lake for year-round fishing is getting the thumbs-up from Jackson's agency, which sees it as another way to provide more fishing opportunities for trout that are stocked just for anglers.

Year-round fishing would join the 8-trout daily limit — the highest limit in Oregon — as another way for anglers to keep the biomass of rainbows in check at Oregon's best trout lake, where Jackson keeps an eye on trout levels to ensure they don't get so high that they alter the lake's ecology the way invasive tui chub did last decade.

The move could mean anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 more trout would be caught and kept annually, Jackson says.

That should reduce the impact of so many trout on zooplankton, insect levels and overall lake health — all because guys who release one-third of the fish they catch there in July will generally turn trout eyes into X's on damn near everything they catch in January.

"Ice anglers tend to retain their fish," Jackson says. "This will provide increased recreational opportunities and provide us with a little more of an ecological buffer."

The Diamond Lake proposal sailed through an Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Friday and remains in a passel of proposals set for adoption when the commission meets Sept. 7 in Hermiston.

If it is adopted as expected, this Oct. 31 will be the last time the fishing season will close at the eastern Douglas County lake on Halloween. Angling would reopen Jan. 1, meaning it would no longer be one of the lakes taking part in the normal trout-season opener on the fourth Saturday of April.

Asking anglers to please stop catch-and-release fishing and start killing more trout is not the normal mantra heard at popular trout lakes. But nothing has been normal at Diamond Lake since it was poisoned in 2006 to kill off millions of tui chub that damaged the lake's water quality and fishery.

When the fishery reopened in 2008, catch rates were 1.7 fish per angler per day, then it dropped to 1.4 fish per day in 2009 before exploding to 3.5 trout per day in 2010. Last year's catch was 2.8 trout per day, and this year so far has been slightly ahead of that.

The catch rate is used to estimate the total numbers of trout in the lake, and the lake's management plan calls for no more than 100 pounds of trout per acre there. Any more could upset the lake's balance like the chub did, so stocking rates have dropped consistently, and ODFW made Diamond its only lake with an eight-trout daily limit in 2010.

But that year, anglers released 37 percent of the trout they caught, despite pleas by Jackson for anglers to take home more fish. Last year's release rate was down to 31 percent, which is still higher than Jackson would like to see.

Heading into this season with an estimated 400,000 rainbows in the lake, ODFW stocked only 165,000 fingerlings last spring to ensure Diamond's hefty rainbow population wouldn't become too hefty. That's about half of earlier releases.

When Jackson analyzed a public request to open the lake year-round, it penciled out as a potential asset when dealing with this strange paradox of too many trout.

Even so, Rick Rockholt from the Diamond Lake Resort is lukewarm to the likely change.

"Ice fishing's just not that big," Rockholt says. "If you were in Minnesota, that's a different story."

Unlike Midwest lakes, Diamond Lake gets layers of ice, slush and snow that aren't as comfortable and easy to work, Rockholt says.

The lake's sometimes sketchy ice has Rockholt concerned that someone's going to fall through, so he's worried about promoting ice fishing.

"The world's sue-crazy," he says. "They'll go after any deep pocket."