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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 Oregon’s 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 Oregon’s 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 Hood’s Shellrock and Cast Lakes, by horse and mule.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ODFW - Johnathen Link, left, and Clayton Morgan, ODFW interns from Mt. Hood Community College, transfer fish from a tank truck to small plastic bags full of fish that are about to be loaded onto mules for transport to Shellrock Lake.

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 can’t 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.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ODFW - Members of the Territorial Riders chapter of Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon head up the trail on Mt. Hood with a load of trout that will be released in Shellrock Lake.

“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 can’t 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.

Oregon’s high mountain lakes have been particularly popular during recent drought conditions.

“Fishing Oregon’s high lakes can be a really good experience,” said Mike Gauvin, manager of ODFW’s Recreational Fisheries Management Program. “The crowds are usually smaller, you don’t have competing activities, and it’s generally more relaxing, not to mention some exceptional scenery.”