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RAINBOWS BY THE TRUCKLOAD

FUTURE TROPHIES: Bob Becker of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife works on top of a truck that transports rainbow trout to area lakes and ponds. (ODFW photos).
FUTURE TROPHIES: Bob Becker of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife works on top of a truck that transports rainbow trout to area lakes and ponds. (ODFW photos).

- Dick Mason

- The Observer

Bob Becker is a good-natured person with a ready smile and a bright sense of humor, but he is not one to tell rollicking fish stories.

Instead, he provides Northeast Oregon's lakes and ponds with the characters that will star in future fish tales.

Becker coordinates the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Northeast Oregon fish stocking program. The La Grande resident is entering a hectic time of year. During the next five months Becker and others who drive fish liberation trucks will stock Northeast Oregon lakes, reservoirs and ponds with about 100,000 8- to 12-inch trout and 500,000 3- to 4-inch fingerlings.

"It's demanding in the spring and summer. Our trucks are always rolling,'' Becker said. "I like the challenge of working out all of the logistics and timing.''

The ODFW fish stocking schedule is available on its website. But to many anglers, the sight of Becker and others in a fish liberation truck is as welcome as a hot lure or a new electronic fish finder.

Earlier this month Becker was driving a truck to a Umatilla County pond when a car traveling in a different direction went by. Its driver did a quick U-turn and followed Becker to the pond he stocked.

Being followed fails to bother Becker.

"I'm actually surprised that it doesn't happen more often,'' Becker said.

Most of the trout stocked in Northeast Oregon are first raised at the Oak Springs Hatchery on the Deschutes River. The fish are then transferred to the ODFW's Irrigon hatchery where they are kept for several months before being transported to ponds and lakes.

The trout are not raised at Irrigon the entire time before their release because room is unavailable until early in the year. Then the steelhead raised at Irrigon are moved to acclimation ponds, freeing up space for the trout trucked in from Oak Springs, Becker said.

Most trout released in Northeast Oregon are 3- to 4-inch fingerlings. After a year in ponds and lakes, many of the trout will be 8 to 12 inches in length. This approach is more cost effective than keeping the fish in a hatchery until they are 8 to 12 inches.

Many of the fingerlings, however, are lost to predation and the elements. Still, even if just 50 percent of these fish grow into 8- to 12-inch trout, moving fish out of the hatchery early proves to be bargain for anglers.

"The final cost for the angler dollar is less,'' Becker said.

Fingerlings are put in only lakes and reservoirs large enough to give them a chance to grow to maturity. Ponds are avoided because late summer heat and freezing winter cold can kill all the fish. Ponds heat up more in late summer because of their small size and can freeze completely in the winter for the same reason. Both heat and ice rob water of oxygen. Lakes also freeze over in the winter, but they still have adequate oxygen for fish because of their larger size.

Union County sites where fingerlings are planted include Thief Valley, Wolf Creek and Pilcher Creek reservoirs and Morgan Lake. About 100,000 fingerlings are put in Thief Valley, 23,000 in Morgan Lake and 15,000 each in Pilcher Creek and Wolf Creek reservoirs annually.

The trucks transporting trout to ponds and lakes have 1,000- to 5,000-gallon tanks. The well insulated tankers are aerated and keep water cool. Dissolved oxygen placed in the water also helps the fish.

Ideally, water should be kept just below 50 degrees when transporting trout. The low water temperature slows the metabolism of the trout, meaning they need less oxygen and can be transported at a higher density level. Water temperatures approaching and topping 60 degrees spell trouble for trout since warmer water increases their metabolisms.

Trout in warmer water do not travel well in crowded conditions, Becker said.

ODFW fish liberation crews are careful not to release trout into water warmer than 70 degrees since this can kill trout. Many summer releases are made in the morning before water temperatures heat up. The fish thus have time to find cooler water before things heat up, Becker said.

The rainbows that will be released in Northeast Oregon this spring and summer will again include trophy trout weighing 1.5 to 4 pounds. These fish were kept at the ODFW's hatcheries an extra year to allow them to grow more under ideal temperatures and feeding conditions. Between 200 and 300 trophy trout will be placed in area ponds and lakes this year, including Anthony Lake and Grande Ronde Lake.

STOCKING SCHEDULE

Following is the ODFW Northeast Oregon stocking schedule through May 6.

The number of fish listed are the 8- to 12-inch rainbow trout to be stocked. The number of 3- to 4-inch fingerlings that will be stocked is not listed.

The ODFW will continue stocking Northeast Oregon ponds, lakes and reservoirs through mid-August. The complete stocking schedule is available the ODFW website, www.dfw.state.or.us.

April 2-9

McNary Ponds — 2,000 8- to 12-inch rainbow trout.

Hatrock Pond — 1,000

Tatone Pond — 500

April 9-16

Haines Pond — 1,000

Highway 203 Pond — 2,000

North Powder Pond No. 1 —2,000

North Powder Pond No. 2 —1,000

Rowe Creek Reservoir — 2,000

Anson Wright Pond — 700

Willow Creek — 1,000

Long Creek Pond — 700

Seventh Street Pond (John Day) — 1,000

Brandon's Pond (John Day) — 50

April 16-23

McNary Ponds — 2,500

Weston Pond — 900

Ladd Pond — 625

Roulet Pond — 500

Wallowa Wildlife Pond — 400

Marr Pond — 450

April 23-30

Phillips Reservoir — 4,000

April 30-May 6

H.H. Murray Reservoir — 2,000

South Fork of Burnt River — 1,000

Haines Pond — 1,500

Highway 203 Pond — 2,000

North Powder Pond No. 1 —1,000

Morgan Lake — 500

Marr Pond — 400

Wallowa Wildlife Pond — 400

Wallowa Lake — 3,500

McNary Ponds — 2,500

Hatrock Pond — 1,000

Phillips Reservoir — 5,000

Kiwanis Pond — 100

 
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