Where Dead Indian Memorial Road finally straightens out just before the turn onto Hyatt-Prairie Road, the vast expanse of green visible for the past six years along the upper shore of Howard Prairie Lake is now blue.
“For the past several years, it’s been a meadow,” Jackson County Parks Manager Steve Lambert says. “Now the goose-nesting platforms are in water.
“That’s your first ‘wow’ factor,” he says.
And many more wows await trout-lovers who head to Howard Prairie this weekend for what historically used to be the start of the spring trout-fishing season in Western Oregon.
The lake was officially listed as full Wednesday — for the first time since the spring of 2011 — and trout bums used to fishing this popular lake amid drought conditions most of this decade may not recognize it.
The Howard Prairie Resort docks that had been perched on mud a stone’s throw from the water most of this decade are floating again and lined with boats.
A full reservoir, exposed since the ice melted nearly overnight a month ago, is offering a fine complement of holdover trout fattened by what is likely a more vibrant underwater world.
And the trout fishers’ world is all right again.
“We want to see what this place feels like when it’s full,” says Lambert, whose department has run the resort the past four years.
Other southwest Oregon trout hot-spots such as Fish Lake, Lake of the Woods, Lost Creek and Applegate reservoirs also will be gleaming that special shine of angling optimism under the warm and sunny skies meteorologists are pledging for this weekend.
Lost Creek and Applegate were both recently stocked with 20,000 and 15,000 legal-sized trout, respectively, as well as 800 trophy trout this week for the traditional opener, which technically disappeared last year when most Western Oregon lakes went to year-round fishing.
Big rainbows are cruising the shorelines of Lake of the Woods in search of warmer water and more bug activity. Ditto at nearby Fish Lake, where rainbows are joined by land-locked chinook salmon in the shallows.
“I think we’re going to have full reservoirs, and that’s certainly going to be a change for anglers,” says Dan VanDyke, Rogue District fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and a trout-troller by avocation.
At Diamond Lake, however, the trout picture has hit pause as the lake remains white and bright under yet more new snow that carpeted the slushy ice two days ago. It might be two weeks before the Douglas County high-Cascades lake turns ice-free for anglers.
Hyatt Lake is also caught in a different kind of time capsule. The high-end reservoir in the federal Bureau of Reclamation series of projects has been kept artificially low all winter as the bureau preps for some seismic retrofits and strengthening work at Hyatt Dam this summer.
The lake was listed at 62 percent full Thursday and not expected to get any higher until the work is completed in early fall.
Moreover, new snow there has hampered access, says Joel Brumm, assistant manager of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which surrounds the reservoir.
There is limited access to the BLM’s ramp and parking, as well as no bathrooms, Brumm says. It’s not officially open and “access is sort of iffy,” so anglers anxious to get out there will be launching at their own risk, Brumm says.
It’s even worse in the Union Creek area, where VanDyke says his agency could delay or alter weekly trout stocking in the far upper Rogue River due to high flows and access limited by snow. Stocking there is scheduled to begin the week before Memorial Day.
Possibilities include stocking tributaries such as Union Creek while waiting for flows to ebb enough in the far upper Rogue to make trout fishing there viable, VanDyke says.
“It’s on our radar screen, but it’s not etched in stone yet,” VanDyke says.
What will start showing up on anglers’ sonar is just as interesting.
Mud flats that have been exposed for several years are now underwater. When that happened last year at Applegate Lake, the newly watered areas turned extremely buggy, luring rainbows that fed early and often.
Early reports out of Howard Prairie of larger holdover trout than in recent years suggest that could be happening there.
So bank and boat anglers would do themselves a favor by targeting the near-shore shallows, such as the old meadow that turned into the lake again after six years of exposure.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see bigger fish and better survival rates,” VanDyke says. “In my mind, I think there are fish all over the place at Howard Prairie.”— The Associated Press