By Mark Freeman, Mail Tribune June 10. 2015 9:57AM
Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes could become year-round fishing spots, and special rules for largemouth bass in Applegate Lake could disappear under new plans to simplify Oregon’s often confusing and inconsistent trout and warmwater fishing rules.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is in the midst of revamping its regulations statewide with a big eye on simplification and consistency in order to take the guesswork out of figuring out what’s open and what’s legal out there.
An internal review by agency biologists showed about 500 trout and warmwater fish rules, with about 400 of them falling into distinctly similar categories, says Mike Gauvin, ODFW’s new recreational fisheries program manager, who is heading up the review.
The remaining 100 were special regulations that agency biologists took aim at to see whether they should remain.
“Over the years, the regulations have gotten more and more complex,” Gauvin says. “We’re trying to look at consistency across the state. We really want continuity where possible.
That could mean eliminating the traditional April trout opener at lakes such as Hyatt and Howard Prairie, adding them to the group of year-round lakes that includes most regional reservoirs.
The department wants the simplified regulations in place for the 2016 season, with the new booklet to be printed every two years instead of annually.
ODFW biologists have reviewed general concepts for reworking the regulations, but no full draft of lake-by-lake proposals currently exists, Gauvin says.
Agency biologists will unveil its draft concepts at a series of public meetings this month, including a 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, meeting at Jackson County Roads and Parks Auditorium, 200 Antelope Way, White City.
The public will be invited to ask questions, but biologists will not accept new regulation proposals at the meeting, says Jessica Sall, ODFW’s Fish Division spokeswoman.
There will be opportunities for public comment before the proposals are sent to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, Sall says.
ODFW biologists began the simplification process earlier this year and have kept it largely in-house.
Hyatt and Howard Prairie historically have been closed during the winter and opened on the traditional fourth Saturday in April, except for a few years in the late 1970s when they were open year-round. Worries about safety on the reservoirs’ thin ice and worries from resort owners and summer anglers that year-round fishing harmed the trout population led to ODFW going back to the shorter season that has remained ever since.
Other individual lake rules that have hit the books over the years — which are likely will go away — are a bass slot limit at Applegate Lake and crappie rules at Emigrant, says David Haight, an ODFW assistant fish biologist in Central Point.
At Applegate, anglers have been banned from keeping any bass 12 to 15 inches long and only one longer than 15 inches as a way to boost the size of bass in the reservoir, Haight says. But anglers keep so few bass there that the rules have no real impact, he says.
Similarly, Emigrant’s 8-inch minimum length for keeper crappie was intended to help foster a trophy crappie fishery, but the illegal introduction of yellow perch has stunted the crappie population and has rendered the rule moot.
“If they’re not accomplishing what we want them to do, then what other rules make sense?” Haight says.
Lonnie Johnson, a Grants Pass angler who is conservation director for Oregon BASS Nation, says the local impacts will be of little consequence, but his group will push back out of principle on two possible rule changes — eliminating the smallmouth bass limits on the Columbia and Umpqua rivers.
“A lot of this is purely political,” Johnson says. “The changes they’re making aren’t going to make any big difference. Most warmwater people catch and release. I do.”
The round of rule changes involve warmwater fisheries and trout but not salmon or steelhead angling rules.