In Oregon, Airlifting Trout Maintains High Country Fishing

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) took to the
air last week to release 345,000 trout in approximately 500 lakes
throughout the Cascade mountain range.

Rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout ranging from 1 to 2 inches in
length were trucked from five ODFW hatcheries to heliports at Mt.
Hood, Hoodoo Ski Area, Fall River Hatchery, and Klamath Falls so
they could be airlifted to some of the state’s most spectacular
fishing destinations.

“There is a lot of interesting in fishing Oregon’s high mountain
lakes, especially this time of year,” said Rhine Messmer, ODFW
Recreational Fisheries Program Manager for Inland Fisheries. “It
can be really good fishing. The thing about Oregon’s high lakes is
there are not a lot of places in the lower 48 United States where
you can have this kind of wilderness fishing experience.”

The trout are transported by helicopter in a custom made shuttle
carrying 30 individual canisters that hold a couple gallons of
water and up to 1,000 fingerlings apiece. The canisters can be
opened individually by remote control while the chopper is hovering
over a lake. Biologists like to use the smaller, juvenile fish
because they can make the 50-100 ft. fall to the lake with less
trauma than larger fish, which improves survival rates.

Data collected afterwards in ODFW sampling surveys have shown
that once in their new environs the trout are able to establish
themselves and grow to harvestable sizes, mostly in the 8- to
12-inch range, but some lakes do produce trout up to or larger than
15 inches.

“It can be very rewarding after a long hike to catch some nice
trout and be able to cook them up for dinner or breakfast right out
of the lake,” Messmer said.

High lakes fish stocking is nothing new in Oregon. ODFW has been
releasing trout in the high lakes for decades. What is new is
technology that is making aerial stocking more efficient.
Biologists for each participating watershed district plot the
flight paths and release sites on handheld GPS units, which they
then use to help the helicopter pilot navigate directly to each
lake with pinpoint accuracy.

High lakes fishing is very popular according to a survey of
anglers conducted by ODFW in 2006. Of those anglers surveyed, 25
percent identified Oregon’s high lakes as their preferred place to
fish for trout. That equates to roughly 52,000 anglers per year,
according to Messmer.

“It can be a really good fishing experience,” he said. “The
crowds are usually smaller, you don’t have competing activities
like boats and jet skis, and it’s generally more relaxing, not to
mention some exceptional scenery.”

ODFW is currently developing a database of high lakes fisheries,
which the department plans to post on its website. In the meantime,
anglers are encouraged to consult with local district fish
biologists for information about specific lakes.

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