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Redband trout are thriving in Ochoco Creek

Two weeks ago this column pointed out the legal changes for fishing Ochoco Creek. Until May 28, bait is not legal and the limit is two trout.
   As a result of that column, readers have been asking, "Why the changes?"
   To get the official word, I talked with Brett Hodgson, district fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) in Prineville.
   According to Brett, the thing that triggered the change was the discovery that Ochoco Creek has a good population of self-sustaining native redband rainbow trout - even right through town. Previously it was assumed that in town it was pretty much a put-and-take fishery (put hatchery fish in the creek and let the kids take them out), but studies show there is a lot of natural production.
   After this discovery, ODFW changed their stocking program for the creek, and in 2004 began stocking the redband strain of rainbows, rather than the usual domestic strain that is stocked commonly throughout the state. The redband strain shows improved performance and survival over other strains.
   Brett is working with the Crook County High School Fishing Club and other volunteer groups, and is trapping native redbands from Ochoco Creek, above Ochoco Reservoir. Those fish are taken to Oak Springs hatchery (on the Deschutes River, north of Maupin), where the eggs are hatched and the young reared.
   Beginning last year, all trout planted in Ochoco Creek are these hardier redbands. According to Brett, they haven't yet met their production goals, but future plans include planting nothing but redbands in all area waters, including Ochoco and Prineville reservoirs.
   With Ochoco Creek)s natural production, it could eventually become self-sustaining, although Brett did point out a Catch-22 situation. Even though the trout currently being planted are descendants of wild redbands, they are still hatchery fish. By mixing hatchery planters with wild fish, we)re dumbing-down the resulting offspring.
   As to future plans, Brett said, "if we can demonstrate that just through natural production we can sustain a popular fishery here in town, we may go that route, but we're also aware how popular that fishery is, and we don't want to take it away."
   And that's the bottom line concerning the change in regulations. In reality, the fishing regulations for Ochoco Creek include the use of flies and lures only (no bait) and bag limit of two - with that major exception of allowing bait, and a bag limit of five, during that period when the creek is stocked with hatchery planters (May 28 through October 31).
   ODFW will continue to stock Ochoco Creek from late spring into fall, including just before the kids' fishing derby in June, to provide extra fish for that popular in-town fishery. But the no-bait and two-fish regulations from November to May, helps protect the native fish, especially during the spawning season.
   Fish management is not just dumping hatchery fish in a stream or reservoir, and if we can build up a self-sustaining redband population in Ochoco Creek, we can have better fishing for a higher-quality fish.