In June 2013 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife introduced rainbow trout to Hosmer lake. Their stated intent was to “diversify the fishery.” Our fly fishing contributor, Wayne Seim, a published fish biologist, wonders if this was the right move for one of his favorite Central Oregon fisheries. (click images below to enlarge)
Hosmer Lake is one of the high Cascades lakes of Central Oregon. When you are out on the lake Mount Bachelor looms prominently to the northeast while the South Sister and Broken Top sit off toward the north. It is a gorgeous place and people come here just to photograph the lake framed by the snow-capped mountains.
Others come to kayak or canoe from the lower lake up through the channels to the upper lake. As they paddle the shallow, clear waters they can watch Atlantic Salmon and brook trout swim lazily away from their quiet craft. Ospreys and bald eagles watch the fish also. But many of us come to fly fish the Atlantics for their spectacular leaps and runs, and for the uniqueness of casting flies to this exotic species.
I was here this spring, like most years, with Patty and a fishing friend. It was May 29th , early for this lake at 5,000 ft. in elevation, and there were only a few others in the campground. Patty started dinner while the guys inflated the pontoon boat (for me) and the float tube (for Jim). I fished dry flies to match the Calibaetis emergence, but it soon grew windy and cool, and a driving rain sent us back to the camp trailer for dinner. Still, three Atlantics were fooled by the feathered offerings.
The following day was pleasant -after some morning snow! – and the fish more willing to join our sport. A wonderful Atlantic well over 20 inches took my dry fly with exuberance, taking line out and jumping high immediately, running and jumping again and again. It was the kind of a fish that makes the day worth the effort. Landing this powerful fish and freeing it from the fly was a two (or three) -handed operation so I failed to take his portrait, but sent him on his way into the lake. I did capture photographs of several 16 and 17-inch fish to mark the day.
I fished Hosmer again on May 11 and 12. Patty and I found a great camping site within easy walking distance to the launch site. After getting the trailer set up, Patty kindly helped me carry the pontoon boat to the launch, with KD the yellow lab pulling along in a marginally helpful manner. Launched on my way, I rowed past two float-tubers already in action, and found a favorite spot along the reedy margins to cast. The first fish was a 10-inch hatchery rainbow – an event I could hardly process. I have fished here for over 40 years – beginning in the days it was misnamed “Mud Lake” – and I knew rainbows, especially this rather smallish fish which had likely arrived within just a few days, did not belong here. I was confused. Looking around the lake I could see hundreds of rising trout. Continuing to cast to confirm this situation resulted in eight more little rainbows and a rather good looking cutthroat. Only one nice Atlantic took my fly, apparently the newly arrived trout beat the Atlantics to the potential food, an indication of how these newcomers might compete with their larger relatives for the available food resources of the lake. Giving up I returned to camp to process these new events.
I spoke with a number of flyfishers nearby, most wondered at the changes this would bring to this revered lake. Would adding a put-and-take fishery have the same value to fishers dedicated to catch-and-release? I wondered also. Returning after lunch I again was plagued by the little trout, although I found a strong 14-inch cutthroat that was in excellent shape. Eventually I landed some goodly Atlantic Salmon, a 19, an 18 and a 17 inch fish that reminded me of why I come to this high lake of the Cascades. As I paddled along an Osprey swept by toward the water from high above. It came so fast I feared for its impact with the water, but with a watery crash it struck a large fish. The bird struggled for about 10 seconds before it could get its wings up above water and digging into the air. Up it came with a large fish, barely able to lift it, and was on its way back to its nest. This event lifted my spirits and made me think the lake, and the creatures that live here will adjust and survive long into the future.
On reflection, my guess is that time will tell whether this change marks a brighter future or a diminished one for Hosmer Lake. Eventually the stocked trout will grow, the cutthroats may even spawn here and the system will accommodate the newcomers. Will the Atlantics remain as large and abundant as before? Probably not. But will I return to test these newcomers as they grow larger? Quite possibly. I love this place.
Wayne Seim is a retired fish biologist and long-time fly fisher. He and his wife Patty (and KD the canine family member) live just outside Corvallis, Oregon but often find time to visit fly fishing waters from Oregon on east to Yellowstone Park. The High Cascades Lakes near Bend are a favorite destination.