|A helicopter releases a canister of trout fingerlings into Mirror Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest during a biennial high lakes stocking project administered by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
CLACKAMAS, Ore. – The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife took to the air last week to release 350,000 trout in more than 450 lakes throughout the Cascade mountain range.
Rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout ranging in size from 1 to 1½ inches in length were trucked from five ODFW hatcheries to heliports at Mt. Hood and as far south as the Oregon border so they could be airlifted to some of the state’s most spectacular fishing destinations.
“We’re creating a unique opportunity for people who want to hike in and do some fishing while they’re enjoying these lakes,” said Ted Wise, an ODFW fish biologist who led the weeklong project.
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 100 ft. fall to the lake with less trauma than larger fish.
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 as large as 15 inches.
“I’ve seen some beautiful trout come out of these lakes,” Wise 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. This year, for example, biologists for each participating watershed district plotted the flight paths and release sites on handheld GPS units, which they then used to help the helicopter navigate directly to each lake with pinpoint accuracy.
“We were able to cut several minutes, if not more, off of each flight,” said Wise. With helicopter time costing $2,200 an hour, the GPS units more than paid for themselves in flight time savings. Wise estimates the average cost of stocking was under $156 per lake, which is comparable to or lower than costs associated with reaching sites accessible by tanker trucks.
“We feel that there is more than enough recreational use of these lakes to justify the expense,” said Wise.