Tenmile Lakes Wipers

While many Oregonians think that the hybrid striped bass program that ran in the early 1980’s was a failure, many anglers think quite differently. I was first introduced to the hybrids by Darrel Gable when the initial plants weighed between three and four pounds. At that time, they were targeting very small prety and much of their diet consisted of the freshwater shrimp that were common in the lakes back then. It seems like it took a while for the hybrids to begin targeting the intended population of somewhat stunted bluegills and they eventually did – and the battle they put up and the speed they could swim when hooked was amazing.

The snag in the program was when several times the normal number of hybrids were stocked one year. They pretty much had to expand their horizons to find more food and they did. I happened to be walking across the small dam that maintains consistent water levels on Tahkenitch Lake when I noticed some flashes from fish below the dam. A closer look revealed that they were either hybrids or small striped bass and I decided to fish for them.

The 200 foot closed area below the dam made fishing difficult, but I finally hooked one on a tube jig. Since I was only using monofilament testing four pounds, I had reduced the drag setting to almost zero. The fish swam back and forth, seemlingly avoiding any snags and swam with such speed that the line slicing through the water made an audible sound.  Eventually, the line broke, despite the light drag, and I believe it was simply due to the water pressure on the rapidly moving line. It was one of the most amazing fish battles I have ever had and I could scarcely feel the fish due to the absense of any noticeable drag.

After the break off, I once again walked out on the dam and could easily see the the school of fish and the one with my lure in its lip clearly stood out. It did not make me feel any better to see that it was the largest fish in the entire school and I became determined to hook and actually land one of these fish.

Over the next few weeks, I managed to hook 16 more of the hybrids and land 12 of them They ran from about 24 to 27 inches in length and weighed from six to eight pounds. The first one I hooked and lost most likely weighed at least nine pounds, but I never saw it again – at least I never saw it again with my lure stuck to its upper lip. I introduced three different anglers to these fish and the two novices got their clocks cleaned by these strong fish. John Griffith, who was the outdoor editor of the World Newspaper landed the fish he hooked, but then he was used to hooking and landing big fish. John took the photo , at the end of this article, of the two hybrids I used to convince him to accompany me on a hybrid trip the next day.

During these three weeks that I fished for these fish, I noticed that on a number of occasions, small fish would swim up and practically take the bait out of a hybrid’s mouth. I am talking about five inch sculpins, five inch largemouth bass and six inch cutthroat trout. They obviously did not fear these fish and I never caught one of those hybrids with anything in their stomach.

During this same period of time, I noticed some hybrids below the dam on the Siltcoos River. These fish were not legal angling fare because the pool below the dam was less than 200 foot long and had numerous snags at the lower end of it. So the four to five pound hybrids that hung out below the dam were immune to angling pressure.

As I fished for these stripers, I became quite curious as to what they were feeding on. I was using sand shrimp to catch them, but they did not reach the sizes they were by not eating. When “Scrap Iron” Johnson opened up Tahkenitch Dam on November 1st of that year (to allow migratory fish to enter the lake), I thought that some of the hybrids might enter the lake, but they simply dropped down into the sand dunes area of Tahkenitch Creek and eventually back out into the ocean. Some of the holes they stayed in for a short period of time in the lower creek were quite small. At the same time, about 10,000 three-inch long yellow perch dropped down into the creek from the lake and hung out just below the dam and I would have loved to see if the hybrids could have ignored such a plentiful source of forage – but I never saw any interaction between the juvenile perch and the adult hybrid stripers and I never saw hybrids in either Tahkenitch Creek or the Siltcoos River again.

I have fished Ana Reservoir in southeast Oregon for the hybrids and managed to catch a four pounder with my very first cast with a soft plastic lure on a jighead. My last Ana hybrid weighed ten pounds 12 ounces and fought a lengthy, if unspectacular, fight. The fish was tremendously fat and my impression of the reservoir’s largest hybrids is that they are very fat and do not put up nearly the fight that the fish from Tenmile Lakes did.

To me, it seemed like the fishing pressure on Tenmile Lakes was at its highest while the hybrids were in the lake and that the numbers of outsized largemouth bass that were caught at Tenmile was at its highest as well. I can’t explain why, but it semmed pretty obvious at the time.

Over the last several years, a number of anglers have reported catching hybrid stripers out of Tenmile Lakes, but if that is true, they would have to be several times older than the oldest hybrid stripers ever recorded. Some people mistakenly believe that only hybrids have broken horizontal lines on their sides, but striped bass have always been in Tenmile Lakes. When they rehabilitated the lake approximately 40 years ago, the ODFW netted several stripers to 25 pounds just above the bridge over Tenmile Creek at Hilltop Drive in Lakeside. I also noticed a large chunk of striped bass a couple of days later that had been mostly consumed by birds that had to have come from a striper in the 30 pound class.

Sometimes angling pressure does not reveal what is actually in a lake. The main reason that Tenmile Lakes was rotenoned was to eradicate a stunted population of yellow perch and bluegills. But at nightfall, that first evening after the treatmean, thousands of yellow perch in the 13 to 17-inch class popped to the surface and the numbers of goldfish that floated to the surface that weighed between two and three pounds was truly amazing. A few sturgeon were seem thrashing on the surface, but when they died they sank. The lakes anglers obviously were not doing a good job of harvesting these fish, but they most likely would have done a better job if they had realized that these fish were actually there.


About Pete Heley

Writes and self-publishes Oregon and Washington fishing books.

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