Mysterious fish deaths stump locals, ODFW

Steve Tool/Chieftain These two bullheads are among the many dead fish up at Kinney Lake. ODFW biologists are still puzzling out the mystery of why they died.

Anglers visiting Kinney Lake had their hopes of huge catches dashed after an unknown malady left a good number of fish dead and floating along the banks over the June 13-14 weekend. The lake is on the Triple Creek Ranch about six miles from Joseph and stocked and maintained by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The ODFW had stocked the lake with 2500 trout only a couple of days before, so it came as a surprise to Kyle Bratcher, ODFW assistant district fish biologist. Bratcher read about the deaths via a June 14 Facebook post. “We don’t know what happened. We’re still working on it,” Bratcher said.

Most of the dead fish are bullheads with an occasional trout in the mix. The ODFW had planned to poison the lake in the fall, and irate anglers who either called Bratcher or posted on Facebook thought the department decided to move up the date.

Bratcher guessed that one of the possible reasons for the deaths is because the bullheads are in the middle of spawning. “They spawn in the shallows in less than two feet of water and something happened that caused the Ph (acidic levels) to go up, or the D.O (dissolved oxygen) dropped. I walked around the lake on Monday, counting fish, and it doesn’t seem to have affected the trout nearly as bad,” Bratcher said. He added that most of the dead trout were on the west end of the lake and possibly died as a result of the restocking process.

According to Bratcher, the bullhead are in poor physical condition during the spawning season, and because of overpopulation are unsuccessfully competing with trout for resources. He also said he measured some very high Ph levels in the weedy areas where bullhead prefer to spawn.

Bratcher has taken water samples from the lake and also took hatchery fish up to the lake and put them in water cages on Monday for 25 hours, and all were still alive. He also observed a number of live bullhead and trout. “It’s fishable; there’s nothing major going on up there,”Bratcher said.

“This didn’t have anything to do with us poisoning the lake. That’s not happening until next fall,” Bratcher said.

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