September 29, 2010
Voracious trout prowl the banks of these three Central Oregon reservoirs. If you're planning on making a withdrawal, these tips and techniques are worth their weight in gold. (March 2007)
This Central Oregon reservoir trout fell for a Rooster Tail cast along the shoreline. Look for submerged boulders, or any other bottom structure to target cruising March rainbows looking for minnows.
Photo By Gary Lewis
"In like a lion, out like a lamb. Or vice versa." That's a good description of the March weather in Central Oregon. There could be sunshine and 60 degrees one day, snow the next.
But trout are on the prowl -- ravenous after a long, cold winter. Three Central Oregon reservoirs produce good fishing all year long, and this time of year, the trout action really begins to heat up.
Best of all, most of the good fishing is within an easy cast of the shore. Cast spinners or small minnow-imitating plugs to tempt hungry trout cruising the shallows. Or throw out a tasty bait and sit back. Chances are, your wait won't be long.
Halfway between Madras and Terrebonne, two miles east of Highway 97, you'll find 240-acre Haystack Reservoir in a high-desert setting of sage and juniper. This productive water is home to kokanee, crappie, bass, catfish and trout. In late winter and early spring, before scheduled plants of rainbows and browns, bank anglers can target holdover trout cruising in the shallows.
Early in the year, water is still cold. The shallows provide the most insect production. Fish may work the south end of the lake, even to the point of feeding in the aquatic grass near shore. But most anglers focus on the west shore, from the launch to the dam. Depth varies from 2 feet to 75 in front of the dam.
This is clean, productive water, and the fish grow fast. In addition, the state stocks large, brood-stock rainbows early in the year. Six- to 10-pound fish are common. A couple of years ago, Haystack gave up one 12.5-pound rainbow.
When the canal is feeding water into the reservoir, trout stack up to grab morsels along the current line. The fishing platform is wheelchair accessible and puts the angler adjacent to the inlet. On the other side of the inlet is a high, rocky bank. Many good catches come from this spot.
Rainbows are the main catch in March and April. Many are taken on PowerBaits, Pautzke's salmon eggs and worms. To rig for PowerBait, use a sliding sinker and 3 feet of 6-pound fluorocarbon leader, terminated at a No. 14 treble hook. Squeeze a ball of PowerBait around the hook, set the rod in a holder and wait for the strike.
For brown trout, focus on the riprap around the dam, where these predatory fish hide to ambush schools of baitfish. For the best success, cast and retrieve Rapalas or Rooster Tails at first light and last light.
The 3,000-acre Prineville Reservoir lies about 15 miles southeast of Prineville and can be reached from Millican, Alfalfa and Prineville on Route 27, from Combs Flat Road, or from Juniper Canyon Road out of Prineville.
When bank-fishing in March, this lake is the best bet. It's planted with fingerling rainbow trout each May. By the end of their first winter, these fish average 12 to 14 inches, with some running to 17 inches or more.
Prineville Reservoir is productive trout water that also supports populations of smallmouth bass, largemouth, crappie and catfish. The reservoir is 60 feet deep at its deepest, with a lot of shallow water along the banks. Good insect production and a healthy crayfish population help the trout grow fast.
Good bank-fishing can be found from the riprap near Bowman Dam, in the Bear Creek arm (accessible from Route 27) and in Prineville Reservoir State Park up to Jasper Point.
To decide where to concentrate your efforts, look at the topography of the shoreline. Rocky points or steep shoulders indicate that a ridge continues below the surface. This type of structure will hold feeding rainbows in the morning and evening.
Small Blue Fox and Rooster Tail spinners are productive, but they will take only the most aggressive fish. Once you've located a few fish, switch to bait fished from the bottom on a sliding sinker.
One technique that works is to use a whole night crawler. Rig it with a sliding sinker and 3 feet of leader terminating at a Daiichi No. 8 long shank red hook. Inflate the worm with a syringe, or use a marshmallow to keep the bait floating off the bottom.
A local's favorite is the Prineville Sandwich. One variation employs three baits on a No. 8 red bait hook: a Pautzke's single egg, a green garlic-flavored marshmallow and a bit of night crawler.
Trout can't resist it, but the bite is a tricky one. Before you set the hook, wait until the rod tip has bounced a few times and the line starts to move.
Ochoco Reservoir is found six miles east of Prineville along Highway 26. It's a long, narrow reservoir, fed by Ochoco Creek on the eastern end. Depending on the snowpack, rainfall and irrigation draw-off, the lake can range from 120 to 1,200 acres in size. At its deepest point, the water is 100 feet deep. Ochoco is easily fished from the bank, and the best spots are accessible from parking areas just off the highway.
Dropoffs and structure hold the fish better than mud flats. Before the dam was built, the valley was flat ranchland. Today, those fields are mud flats, cut by the stream channel and a submerged ranch road, mainly unreachable from the bank.
Bank anglers fill their limits faster when they focus on areas where a point of rocks or some manmade structure provides cover. Many anglers target the transition zones from deeper water to the shallows at the riprap near the dam. Rooster Tail, Mepps and small Blue Fox spinners work well here. A slower retrieve (but fast enough that the blade spins) is the most tantalizing to trout. Cast and retrieve, varying the depth until you find the feeding fish.
The best trout of the year are often holdovers caught in March, before the first plants of the season. Ochoco's rainbows run from 14 to 18 inches early in the spring. And bigger fish are caught every year.
Up the lake, along the north shore, there is parking at Ochoco Lake State Park and Lake Shore RV Park. On one beach, anglers can even drive down onto the sand, when the water is lower, and sit in their cars while wa
tching the rod tip.
In March, the fish will be closer to the bank, feeding in the shallows. Here, the depth runs to 50 feet, so don't cast too far or you'll miss the fish. Most anglers use PowerBait (the rainbow color works well) formed around a No. 14 treble hook and fished on 3 feet of leader with a sliding sinker.
When the water is calm, try a bobber and worm or Pautzke's Balls O' Fire salmon eggs on a small gold hook. Experiment with leader length until you find the feeders.
In Haystack, Ochoco and Prineville Reservoirs, the trout limit is five per day, with two daily limits in possession. Minimum length is 8 inches. Only one trout over 20 inches may be taken per day.
Many campgrounds are closed at this time of year, but open again at the end of April. Lake Shore RV Park, on Ochoco Reservoir at (541) 447-6059, and KOA Kampground near Haystack Reservoir, at (541) 546-3046, are both open year 'round.
To order a signed copy of Fishing Central Oregon and Beyond, send $34.50 (includes shipping and handling) to Gary Lewis Outdoors, P.O. Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709, or visit GaryLewisOutdoors.com.