Atlantic salmon may not be swimming in Hosmer Lake off the Cascade Lakes Highway much longer.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife last year began introducing other fish to the lake to see how they would fare. Depending upon how the cutthroat and rainbow trout do, the agency may decide to stop stocking the lake with salmon.
“Currently we’re leaning toward discontinuing of the Atlantic salmon program, but as of right now that is not a firm decision,” Brett Hodgson, ODFW district fisheries biologist in Bend said Thursday.
Fish and Wildlife plans to hold public meetings about the lake’s fish this fall. State rules limit angling on the lake to fly-fishing, with Atlantic salmon also limited to catch-and-release. Any changes to fishing regulations wouldn’t take effect until 2017.
Hosmer Lake, about a 50-minute drive west of Bend, is the only lake in the state Fish and Wildlife still stocks with Atlantic salmon. The state has put salmon in the lake since 1958 and used to put them in other lakes around the state.
It did so to provide big, trophy fish for people to catch. While some lakes never met this goal, Hosmer did and Hodgson said it was once known for salmon.
But the fish now aren’t as big as they used to be due to changes in the genetics of the fish and changes in the lake. It is currently rare to catch one bigger than 16 inches long and weighing more than a pound.
By contrast, Hodgson said, the cutthroat and rainbow trout being stocked at the lake may grow to 24 to 30 inches in a couple of years and weigh several pounds.
“We think we could provide a better fishery with these stocks than what we are currently getting out of the Atlantic (salmon) program,” he said. The lake also has introduced brook trout, which spawn naturally.
This June and last, ODFW stocked Hosmer Lake with 4,000 Atlantic salmon, 1,500 rainbow trout and 500 cutthroat trout, Hodgson said. The Atlantic salmon and the rainbow were about 8 inches long and the cutthroat trout were 14 to 18 inches long.
Anglers’ reaction to the possibility of no longer stocking Hosmer with Atlantic salmon is split.
Hoping to see Atlantic salmon stay is Wade Foss, 55, of Redmond.
“Hosmer is a special little place because of (the fish),” he said Friday. Like Hodgson, he said the fish aren’t what they used to be, but he thinks the problem could be corrected by going back to the original East Coast brood stock used decades ago.
“When you talk to the old-timers, they always remember the original ones,” he said.
Steve Raymond, author of nine fly-fishing books, said the fish bring anglers to Central Oregon.
“That is one of the things that put Hosmer Lake on the fishing map,” he said. Raymond, 74, lives on Whidbey Island in Washington and said he made an annual trip to the lake 40 years in a row before surgery broke the string years back. He didn’t come to Hosmer Lake to fish this year after hearing lackluster reports about the salmon.
Hoping to see the salmon go is Yancy Lind, conservation chairman for the Central Oregon Flyfishers in Bend.
He said the fish aren’t from the West Coast , “so they are not appropriate for the lake.”
And it has been years since the fish were large enough to be considered a big catch.
“They are smallish fish,” Lind said. “They aren’t trophy fish anymore.”
Isolated from creeks, rivers and other lakes, Hosmer Lake originally didn’t have any fish and was known as Mud Lake, Hodgson said. After the installation of a small dam to raise the lake’s level, the state began stocking it with fish in 1929.
Today, the lake is also popular with kayakers, canoeists and stand-up paddleboarders, which anglers joking call the “paddle hatch.”
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