SOUTH TWIN LAKE, Ore. (AP) Fishing was slow, so the boat anglers began talking to each other across the smooth, blue water.
You know, the type of chatter in which fishermen engage when they are not catching anything and they want to confirm that nobody else is either.
"There's a million-dollar osprey flying around somewhere," one angler lamented.
South Twin Lake is one of the 96 eligible waters in Cabela's "Fish for Millions" contest, which started May 4 and runs through July 7. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, South Twin was stocked with six tagged rainbow trout that could result in prizes, three of which have already been caught.
Indeed, as that angler noted, the other three might have gone to the birds.
Fishing was reportedly hot at South Twin from opening day in late April all the way through May. But Bulletin photographer Ryan Brennecke and I struggled to get any bites at all on a bright, warm day earlier this month at the lake.
We had signed up for the Cabela's contest the night before, and we were dreaming of big cash prizes like most of the other anglers on the lake. We tried to read all of the seemingly endless fine print before heading out.
The Fish for Millions contest includes lakes or reservoirs across 21 states and 1,500 tagged fish. The grand-prize fish could be in any one of these water bodies, but only one. To be eligible for the grand prize, participants must register online at www.cabelas.com/fishformillions, and they must do so BEFORE they catch a tagged fish.
Each of the contest reservoirs has been stocked with anywhere from six to 20 trout tagged with small but distinct markers called "spaghetti tags" protruding from their backs. The lucky registered anglers who catch those fish can claim their prizes by entering the six-digit tag number and other information on the Cabela's website. They must photograph their fish, with an eligible tag showing and still attached, before removing the tag, according to the official contest rules.
Other prizes for anglers who land tagged fish include boats, a pickup truck, sunglasses, fishing tackle, rods and reels and a shopping spree at Cabela's, a national sporting goods chain specializing in clothing and gear for hunting, fishing and camping. The most likely prize, according to the website, is a $100 Cabela's gift certificate. Anglers will be informed of what they win after the conclusion of the contest period.
In a somewhat misleading element of the contest, the "Grand Prize Fish" is worth $1 million only if it is "caught and logged in the first 10 fish by any participant in the contest," according to the Cabela's website. The value of that fish drops to $10,000 if it is "caught and logged 101st through 1,500th by any participant in the contest." In other words, chances are about 93 percent that the million-dollar fish, if caught and recorded properly, will be worth only $10,000.
Anglers have grumbled for various reasons. Bend's Patrick Douglas called me to say that he caught a tagged trout at South Twin in early May a 5-pounder on a dry fly and entered the tag number on the Cabela's website. An email confirmed his catch, but a later email notified him that he was disqualified for having caught the fish before the contest started.
"It's Cabela's Million Dollar Fish, buyer beware," Douglas said.
The tagged fish in South Twin are cranebows hatchery trout that originated from wild trout in Crane Prairie Reservoir and measure in length from 16 to 20 inches. The other Oregon water body that is part of the contest, Hagg Lake, west of Portland, was stocked with 20 tagged fish. The ODFW, in cooperation with Cabela's, tagged and stocked the fish in both South Twin and Hagg lakes.
Michele Getchell, store manager at Twin Lakes Resort, said the contest has brought an influx of anglers to South Twin, but it has also caused mass confusion.
"Most people just don't understand the contest, so we've been having to explain a lot of it over and over," Getchell said. "The misunderstanding is, they read it and they think there's a million-dollar fish in South Twin, when that's not necessarily the case. I've had, recently, people thinking there were 1,500 tagged fish in this lake."
Getchell had a succinct way of summing up the contest to make it somewhat easier to comprehend: "Every tag does get a prize. The smallest prize is the $100 gift card. (The million-dollar fish) is in a lake in this country, but there's no guarantee it's going to be caught.
"There's many pages of fine print," Getchell continued. "We had a cabin guest leave a copy (of the contest rules) in the cabin, and it was about 15 pages."
Brennecke and I hiked past several of the resort's cabins to seek out the best fishing holes on the east end of the small, 120-acre South Twin Lake. We tried worms, PowerBait and dragonfly nymphs, and Brennecke finally caught two smaller rainbows on PowerBait no spaghetti tags. I hooked two or three fish but failed to land even one.
We watched as a huge brood fish swam back and forth past us in the clear, shallow water near the shore. Brennecke stalked it for a while, but to no avail.
Later, as we ate lunch at the resort, we watched as an older couple caught five trout on the fly from a boat just off the shore in about half an hour.
"The bugs are hatching early because of the nice weather, so the fly fishermen are actually doing fairly well," Getchell said. "It's the bait fishermen who aren't doing so well."
I had taken along my fly rod but never used it. Figures.
Brett Hodgson, a Bend-based fisheries biologist for the ODFW, said the agency will be stocking more rainbows in South Twin in the next couple of weeks.
So fishing should improve, but time is running out to land a fish with an orange Cabela's tag. One of them could be worth $1 million, but don't count on it.
One thing I know for sure: There will be no $1 million for Brennecke or I not even a Cabela's gift certificate.
I blame the osprey.
Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press