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BIG FISH in a little pond.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

EVERYBODY knows the early bird gets the worm, but what does the early worm get? Why, the biggest trout, of course.

Many of the largest trout of the year are caught during January and February, thanks to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife program that must have been inspired by the phrase "big fish in a small pond."

Rafael Calletano of Springfield heard about the program from a friend last Friday. The next day he took his 10-year-old son, Rafael Jr., fishing at the Junction City Pond - a former gravel pit that sits alongside Highway 99, three miles south of Junction City.

Two hours into the morning, the younger Calletano reeled in the first fish he'd ever caught. And it was a memorable one: A 4- to 5-pound rainbow trout had grabbed the rainbow-colored spinner Rafael had been casting.

The tail of his fish dragged on the ground when Rafael carried it, but it was a minnow compared to some of the other lunkers pulled out of the murky waters of the small pond, which covers a mere 8 acres.

With muddy banks and traffic whizzing past, Junction City Pond doesn't have much to offer aesthetically. But it's obviously become a wintertime angling hot spot.

A few hundred yards away, for example, Steve Bizak and Dennis Carr had 15- and 11-pound rainbow trout on their stringer.

They've known about the ODFW winter stocking program long enough to have pulled many big fish out of Junction City Pond in prior years. Like most anglers there, they use "Power Bait" on their hooks, although worms and lures also work.

Bizak said the big trout make surprisingly good eating. "I have a friend who smokes them up for me," he said.

The big fish are available early in the year because that's when the ODFW disposes of fish that are no longer needed at various hatcheries.

Most of "lunkers" dumped into the Junction City waterway and a handful of other Willamette Valley ponds are surplus breeding stock from trout hatcheries. Some extra hatchery winter steelhead that the ODFW doesn't want spawning in the wild are also put in the ponds.

The big rainbow trout come from Roaring River Hatchery near Scio, which produces the fertilized eggs that account for about 75 percent of all the legal-sized trout released in Oregon each year.

Most of the eggs are transported to other facilities to be hatched and reared.

After the spawning season in December and early January, all of Roaring River's 4-year-old brood fish are retired and put out to pasture - along with any surplus 3-year-olds.

Junction City Pond is one of those pastures.

The others are E.E. Wilson Pond north of Corvallis, Walter Wirth Lake and Walling Pond, both in the Salem area, and Willamina Pond in Willamina.

Last week, a tanker truck from Roaring River dumped just more than 300 surplus brood trout into Junction City Pond.

"Of those, 105 were 4-year-olds that averaged 10 to 12 pounds, and we put in 210 3-year-olds that average about 8 pounds each," said Don Faulhaber, the hatchery's manager.

The truck made another run to Junction City this week, releasing another 100 3-year-olds, plus about 160 2-year-olds that average more than 3 pounds, Faulhaber said.

However, Roaring River isn't the only source of big fish for little Junction City Pond.

In early December, Wizard Falls Hatchery near Camp Sherman stocked the pond with about 970 surplus brook trout from its brood program. Of those, 224 were 2 1/2 pounds and the remainder about 1 pound.

Len Simpson of Eugene had one of the larger brookies on his stringer Saturday, thus demonstrating that the brood stock releases still produce action nearly two months later.

During January, the pond also received about 300 surplus winter steelhead adult males, most of them 6 to 7 pounds, in two different shipments from Alsea Hatchery.

The hatchery "recycles" surplus female steelhead, putting them back in the Alsea River after first stripping them of their eggs so they don't spawn in the wild. With male steelhead, however, there's no way to prevent them from spawning in he wild, so they're shipped to one of the valley ponds where they are treated as "trophy trout" under the regulations. (In other words, no steelhead tag is required to harvest them.)

State angling rules limit anglers at the ponds to five trout per day, no more than one of which may be more than 20 inches in length.

The surplus brood stock releases have become a bright spot in the winter doldrums - `something that everybody looks forward too," Falhauber said.

"Those big fish create quite a stir," he said. "One year I had a call from a fellow from Salem who had a friend who had caught one while he was out visiting from New York - and the friend wanted to know when they were going to be released again so he could schedule his next vacation to be there."

CAPTION(S):

Jose Louis Garcia, 6, admires the large rainbow trout held by his mother, Juana. Jose pulled the big brood fish out of Junction City Pond on Saturday, thanks to an ODFW winter stocking program. Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard A former gravel pit, Junction City Pond is neither big nor particularly scenic, but the big fish it produces make it a bright spot in the southern Willamette Valley's winter fishing scene.
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Title Annotation:Surplus 'brood' trout a big deal for anglers; Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 6, 2003
Words:905
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