On a crisp morning in March, two fly fishermen work Davis Lake in the Oregon High Cascades. To the north, and rising through low clouds are the snowy peaks of Mount Bachelor and the South and Middle Sisters. Before suffering a series of setbacks, Davis Lake was once a premier trout fishery in Oregon, capable of routinely producing native rainbows of 22 to 24 inches, and occasionally exceeding 10 pounds. What made Davis so productive was its moderate elevation, a steady supply of clean water, its mean shallow depth and the abundance of vegetation which surrounded the lake as its level pulsed back and forth through annual changes in surface area. All of these factors combined to create a productive bug factory which was capable of producing a good number of super-sized rainbow trout. Trouble started for the trout population when the lake suffered a one-two punch that began with the a series of drought years in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s which dramatically lowered lake levels and severely stressed the trout and their ability to forage and successfully reproduce. Next, in either 1995 or 1996 came the unauthorized and illegal introduction of large mouth bass. Quickly this exotic species seized upon the aquatic abundance of Davis Lake as they fed not only on the wealth of insects, but also upon juvenile trout, and another introduced species, the Tui Chub (Gila bicolor). Today the table has turned, and while Davis Lake is still capable of producing good sized trout, it has become a trophy bass fishery with large mouth in the 5 to 10 pound class not being uncommon. There is now considerable debate regarding how to now manage Davis Lake: should it continue to be managed as a trout fishery whereby the lake will have to be poisoned to kill off the bass population and subsequently be restocked with rainbows. Or alternatively, should the state recognize its unique status as Oregon’s best bass fishery and let it remain what it has now become, an enviable trophy bass fishery. Either way, Davis Lake is a spectacular location, and the fishing is certainly damn good. I will however raise the question, that if Oregon is indeed heading into a period where drought and decreasing snow pact levels are to become the new normal; perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to leave the lake as it; where bass will be better suited to survive in the changing lake conditions of lower and warmer water levels. Moreover, if they are to poison the lake, how likely is it that this would kill 100% of the large mouth bass, for if even 10 bass were to survive, the cycle of this highly adaptive exotic species would start over anew. Additionally, what about preserving the genetic identity of the native rainbow trout which have evolved to survive in this lake, what would happen to them if Davis Lake were to be poisoned?
Davis Lake is easily accessed from the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, and has three boat launches and three US Forest Service operated campgrounds with well maintained vaulted toilets. The lake rests at an elevation of 3,386 feet, has a catchment area of 118 square miles and is primarily fed by Odell and Ranger Creeks. Its surface area has a seasonal variation between 1000 and 3,906 acres; and a maximum depth of 22 feet and an average of 9 feet.