East Lake is an Oregon destination where unmatched Cascade Mountain scenery rules the scene and warm hospitality is king – it’s a timeless place perfect for building lasting family memories of camping time together in the great outdoors. East Lake anglers have enjoyed a summer trout-fishing heritage that reaches back more than a century; anglers travel to the pristine lake that’s set in the caldera of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument to fish for rainbow trout, brown trout and kokanee. But in recent years, East Lake’s famed trout fishing has been on the decline while the numbers of a non-native fish species called “Tui (two-ee) Chub” have soared.
Early morning – when the air is cool and the light is soft, Central Oregon’s East Lake is a marvel! It’s time of day when longtime angler, Mike Cleavenger, likes to catch the lake’s famous kokanee and trout. He relies on lightweight rod, reel and tackle and a lure called “Gibb’s Minnow” that he jigs just above the bottom in 35 feet of water. Cleavenger said the lure imitates an injured minnow: “…And I add three pieces of ‘shoepeg’ corn onto the treble hook – two pieces are dyed red and the third is left natural….really adds to the effectiveness of the jig.”
In minutes, my favorite fishing partner, Christine McOmie, hooked a gorgeous, deep-bodied 16-inch brown trout. Cleavenger said that trout fishing has been fabulous this summer and it’s been a far cry from three years ago when catching a trout was rare while catching the chub was common.
East Lake – one of the state’s premier high cascade lakes – took a nose dive when the invasive tui chub took over the lake. “The chub were beating the kokanee and the trout to the insect food supply,” noted the longtime angler. “The chub far outnumbered the trout and were more aggressive and faster at feeding. They simply exhausted the food supply.”
It’s a similar story to the one that occurred at Southern Oregon’s Diamond Lake back in 2006. The chub invasion was so bad that the prized rainbow trout didn’t have a chance. In fact, most aquatic life in Diamond Lake had nearly died from the takeover by chub that had grown to number in the millions. “Back at that time,” noted state fishery biologist Laura Jackson, “Diamond Lake had an estimated 98 million Tui Chub. About 90 million of them were juveniles that couldn’t reproduce, but 8 million were reproductive so it really threw the lake’s eco-system out of balance.”
So, Diamond Lake was poisoned on purpose in 2006 with a common pesticide called “Rotenone.” Officials closed all access to the water for a time and the wait was worth it, added Jackson. “The treatment in 2006 was followed by trout stocking in 2007,” added Jackson. “The little fingerlings that we released in June and July grew to be 8 inches and catchable by August or September. Now, it’s once again a tremendous lake with a great trout fishery.”
Four years ago, East Lake’s fishermen and business owners worried the same chub takeover would happen at their prized lake. East Lake Resort co-owner Bruce Bronson said, “It was bad enough that individuals grouped together and called ODFW to ask: “What can we do to bring back the trout to East Lake?”
ODFW determined that chemical treatment was not an option because – at nearly 300 feet deep – East Lake was too deep for effective treatment. So, the state partnered with local sport-fishing groups and businesses to purchase special nets that were anchored around the lake’s perimeter to intercept the chub.
State fishery biologist, Jennifer Luke, manages the trapping operations and said the chub’s biology worked well with their trapping plan. “Each July, the chub swim into the lakes shallows at night to spawn. They hit our the lead lines on these trap nets and follow each other into a holding area – once they get inside the net, they cannot swim out, so it works perfectly for catching chub.”
Oregon State University Fishery Science students Jamie Bowles and Bonnie Schwartz are summer interns who assist Luke with the trapping project. They check five nets daily and remove the chub for disposal and the three year old trapping effort has been remarkable. To date, they have removed a quarter million chub and in one day alone they caught more than 2,000 pounds of chub. “We get to see an interesting biological problem in real time,” noted Bowles. “Plus, I love all the hard work and the fact that we are making a difference.”
Luke added that the project’s success can also be measured by the abundance and quality of the trout and kokanee. “The trout are healthier,” said Luke. “They are not snaky and skinny but broad and fat, so we know we have reduced competition for the insect life in the lake. That’s good news for fishermen. East Lake is back and these are the good old days!”