State fish biologists again plan to check anglers' catches at Howard Prairie Lake this year in hopes of nailing down whether a new fish-stocking strategy there will curb the harm caused by illegally introduced smallmouth bass.

By Mark Freeman

For the Tidings

State fish biologists again plan to check anglers' catches at Howard Prairie Lake this year in hopes of nailing down whether a new fish-stocking strategy there will curb the harm caused by illegally introduced smallmouth bass.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has applied for a grant from its Restoration and Enhancement Program to fund part of what is planned to be a season-long creel survey at the popular Cascades lake east of Ashland.

A similar survey last year showed that 97 percent of the rainbows caught and kept by anglers were from fish stocked as 6-inchers in the fall of 2007.

This experimental stocking was done to see whether the larger trout had better survival rates than the traditional fingerling rainbows that have disappeared from the lake — likely the victims of fingerling-munching bass.

More of the larger trout were stocked last fall, and the $21,379 creel survey will help biologists decide whether the new strategy is breathing life into the lake's trout fishery.

The last hurdle for the creel survey to begin comes Friday when the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission votes on the Restoration and Enhancement Program grant during its regular meeting in Salem.

The commission must approve the projects before they can receive Restoration and Enhancement Program money, which comes from a $2 surcharge on fishing licenses, as well as commercial fishing poundage fees.

The agency has asked for $16,907, with the remaining money coming from ODFW matching funds, as well as donations from the Medford-based Rogue FlyFishers Association and the Howard Prairie Resort.

The money would fund creel surveys from opening day April 25 through June 30, says Dan VanDyke, the ODFW's Rogue District fish biologist. A separate proposal is planned for an R&E Program grant for the rest of the angling season, VanDyke says.

The project has garnered clear support as it made its way up the R&E Program chain and appears poised for approval, says Laura Tesler, the program's coordinator.

"Creel (surveys) are like the blood in the body of the ODFW," Tesler says. "They're a vital part of fisheries management.

"Creels usually sail through, but you never know," she says.

The ODFW has relied on fingerling trout stockings at Howard Prairie as an inexpensive way to take advantage of the lake's high insect pupulation and create a popular fishery.

But trout fishing dropped off significantly after illegally introduced smallmouth overran the lake and began munching through the spring fingerling releases.

If the creel survey shows that stocking larger trout helps survival, the ODFW could look for money and space to switch the lake's stocking strategy to that of larger fish, creating a two-tier fishery for both bigger trout and smallmouth bass.

Oswald West State Park campground to remain closed

State parks officials plan to keep closed a small, primitive campground on the northern Oregon Coast to preserve old yet potentially hazardous spruce trees in the area.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department last June closed Oswald West State Park's 30-space primitive campground after a large spruce tree fell in the middle of the campground.

Though no one was hurt, the event led to a study of the campground's flora and found another 49 potentially hazardous trees that could fall into a campsite, building or a nearby high-use trail.

The campground, which is in Tillamook County, hosts about 15,000 people annually, while the nearby trails and beach access are visited by nearly 11 million people, parks officials said.

Parks officials have opted to preserve the trees, some of which are more than 300 years old, and close the campground, rather than removing the trees.

Parks officials are taking public comment on the option through March 31. Comments can be sent by e-mail to www.oswald.west@state.or.us. Voice mails can be left by telephoning 503-986-0952.

Written comments can be mailed to the Oregon State Parks Department, ATTN: Oswald West Plans, 725 Summer St. NE, Salem, OR 97301.