Mules aid fish biologist in stocking high lakes
Horse-carry method to augment helicopter drops
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has taken a new approach to stocking Oregons high lakes. Instead of going by air as they usually do, this summer ODFW staff went by hoof.
Every two years, the department releases more than 350,000 fingerling trout into 500 of Oregons high lakes in the Cascades.
This year, in addition to stocking by helicopter the method most often used ODFW was assisted by the Territorial Riders Chapter of Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon in stocking two Northwest Oregon high lakes, Mount Hoods Shellrock and Cast Lakes, by horse and mule.
On July 11, the volunteer riders carried 200 legal-sized 8-inch trout to Shellrock Lake, located in the High Rock Lakes area north of Ripplebrook.
In June, the horsemen also helped the department stock Cast Lake near Government Camp with 1,200 trout fingerlings.
Although ODFW used horses in the past, in recent years it turned toward favoring helicopters because of their ability to cover more ground.
But Walczak said there are advantages to using horses over helicopters, including achieving higher survival rates of stocked fish and the ability to get ground reports of lake conditions and stock larger fish.
We cant stock legals from a helicopter, he said.
In addition, helicopters can be expensive, so ODFW only uses them to stock every other year.
For the 30-minute walk to Shellrock Lake, 40 trout were loaded into plastic bags full of oxygen-enriched water and ice, which were then put into packs carried by five mules. ODFW Fish Biologist Ben Walczak said fish should survive up to two hours in that situation, and only three fish died on the ride to the lake.
Having dedicated volunteers who generously donate their time and resources made this project a success, Walczak said.
He plans to look into expanding the horse-stocking operation to six or eight release sites next year.
This gives us some more options as far as releasing trout and creating additional fishing opportunity in the high lakes during those years when we cant afford to use helicopters, Walczak said.
But not every location is compatible. Horse-stocking release sites must be within a two-hour ride on a horse-friendly trail.
Oregons high mountain lakes have been particularly popular during recent drought conditions.
Fishing Oregons high lakes can be a really good experience, said Mike Gauvin, manager of ODFWs Recreational Fisheries Management Program. The crowds are usually smaller, you dont have competing activities, and its generally more relaxing, not to mention some exceptional scenery.