Whether you're headed to the mountains for native cutthroats or driving to the lake to stack your stringer with plump rainbows, here are our recommendations for the year's best trout fishing. (April 2006)
As surely as tulips come up every spring, in April our thoughts turn to trout. Warming weather quickens anglers' hearts as insects come to life and rise rings appear close to shore. If you're after a pan full of brookies, hope to tie into a football-sized rainbow, or want to tangle with a brown trout that just might break your line and your heart, you've come to the right place.
We've mined the data from the Oregon Native Fish Status Report (ONFSR)-- a document finished last fall by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife that defines the condition of wild fish stocks throughout the state -- and probed hatchery programs from the coast to the desert. Here are our suggestions for your best trout fishing, from the traditional April 22 trout opener and beyond.
Native cutthroat trout populations in Northwest Oregon are in good condition in every watershed, and there are ample opportunities to hook hatchery rainbows. In spring, you'll find your best trout fishing in lakes and reservoirs. There's no shortage of places to fish, but for most waters you'll want a boat.
Ninety-acre Cape Meares Lake doesn't look or smell like a classic trout lake, but its shallow water is food-rich, and ODFW stocks it regularly with legal rainbows and surplus adult steelhead. The best trout fishing is from March through May. Summer algae blooms make angling more difficult in the warmer months.
Twelve miles south of Astoria is 220-acre Cullaby Lake, a good bet for stocked rainbows. This long, narrow lake averages 6 to 12 feet deep and produces catches of trout all year.
A little more personal, 50-acre Coffenbury Lake, in Fort Stevens Park, gets regular stockings of trout and surplus adult steelhead. Fish from a boat, or walk the trail surrounding the lake. Several docks provide access. Cast Rooster Tails or fish Pautzke's salmon eggs beneath a float.
Hebo Lake is a two-acre cutthroat pond on Hebo Mountain. The ODFW stocks legal cutthroats in spring. A small boat can be put to use here; a trail allows bank access.
South along Highway 101, just south of Florence, is 3,100-acre Siltcoos Lake. Productive, this lake grows wild cutthroats and holdover hatchery rainbows to 9 pounds. Legal-sized rainbows are stocked through spring and summer. Take care to release wild, sea-run fish.
Several intimate lakes near Florence are good options. Carter Lake and Georgia Lakes can be productive from late March through May. Or try 340-acre Mercer Lake, which is open all year and stocked with rainbows in spring. Bring a boat.
For a chance at a 5-pounder while you fill your stringer, try Munsel Lake. Stocked in spring, it produces limits into early summer.
Other good bets for Northwest trout fishermen are the Big Creek Reservoirs, Devil's Lake, Lytle Lake, North Lake and South Lake, Tahoe Lake, Sunset Lake, Vernonia Pond, Lost Lake, Smith Lake, Spring Lake, Buck Lake, Alder Lake, Dune Lake and Bay City Reservoir.
More fish are stocked in Detroit Lake than anywhere else in the state, making this 3,000-acre reservoir a must-fish destination. It holds rainbows, landlocked Chinook salmon and kokanee. Many boaters troll Ford Fenders or Wedding Rings tipped with a piece of night crawler. A small rainbow-pattern Rapala can be good too. Try around the campgrounds and stream inlets. From shore, fish the Santiam, Breitenbush and French Creek arms.
Hagg Lake, lying southwest of Hillsboro, provides one of the best early-season opportunities for Portland-area anglers. The best trout action is from March through June, and the bite picks up again in late September. Hatchery rainbows (60,000 legal fish a year) average 10 inches, but can grow beyond 5 pounds.
Harriet Lake, on the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas, can produce trophy browns, rainbows and brook trout. Locals troll spinners in this 23-acre lake, and fly-fishing can be very good. Its upper end is best for big fish. It is accessed from shore or by boat. The lake's size makes it ideal for rafts and float tubes.
Timothy Lake, 80 miles east of Portland, is a great place to wet a line in spring for limits of kokanee and big brook trout. In June, the bite picks up for hatchery rainbows and hold-overs to 18 inches. For the best action, fish the mouths of tributaries, the smaller arms and shallow water.
The McKenzie River offers 89 miles of trout angling. The best bank access is in the upper river, and good hatchery trout fishing can be had from Belknap Hot Springs down to Vida. For native trout, fish from Clear Lake down to the Hot Springs, and again from Leaburg to Walterville. Native trout must be released. In April, caddis, blue-winged olive and March brown patterns produce for fly rodders. Bait fishing is allowed.
Other North Willamette district waters that will receive good stocks of hatchery fish are North Fork Reservoir, Trillium Lake, Benson Lake, Faraday Lake, Timber Lake, Haldeman Pond, Salmonberry Lake and Silver Creek Reservoir.
In the South Willamette district, rainbows come from Foster Reservoir, Dorena Reservoir, Fern Ridge Reservoir, E. E. Wilson Pond, Junction City Pond, Dexter Reservoir and Cottage Grove Reservoir.
This is the year that ODFW will drain Diamond Lake. Trout fishing should be good through September as low water concentrates the fish. Watch for relaxed catch limits toward the end of the season.
Expect to see a number of big trout brought in. Last season's trophy was an 11-pound Williamson River-strain rainbow. Bring your boat and still-fish Power Bait or troll small spoons, plugs or flies in early mornings and late evenings. For more information, call Diamond Lake Resort at 1-800-733-7593.
Lemolo Lake, at 415 acres, is a good bet when nearby Diamond is crowded. Famous for big browns, it's also a great place to catch a limit of hatchery rainbows or fish for landlocked Chinook and kokanee. For a big brown, fish early or late in the day with 6- to 8-inch minnow lures.
Lost Creek Reservoir is a good choice for hatchery rainbows, cutthroats and browns. Try trolling a Wedding Ring spinner and a worm, a Rooster Tail or Triple Teazer. Go deeper in this 3,500-acre water for a chance at landlocked Chinook or kokanee.
One of this region's most productive trout fisheries is 2,070-acre Howard Prairie Reservoir, which is als
o no slouch for bass. Use a depthfinder to locate the old Beaver Creek channel that runs along the east shore.
Big fish are the draw at 950-acre Hyatt Lake, a shallow reservoir that grows lots of insects. Fourteen- to 20-inch trout and hatchery steelhead grow fast in its nutrient-rich water.
Count on regular stocks of catchable rainbows in April and May at Squaw Lake, Fish Lake, Ten Mile Lake, Saunders Lake, Powers Pond, Empire Lake and Bradley Lake. Fishing in Galesville Reservoir should be good all summer.
Central Oregon had another dry summer last year, but most trout waters came through in good shape, thanks to a wet spring and rain in early October. November snows and thaws helped provide moisture to maintain trout stocks through the winter.
According to the ONFSR, Central Oregon has some of the best bull trout habitat in the West. Sufficient populations allow angling in the Metolius River, Lake Billy Chinook and Lake Simtustus.
Rainbow trout, however, are the main attraction at Simtustus, a 7-mile, narrow, deep reservoir. You'll need to bring a boat or rent one. To catch rainbows or kokanee, fish the Narrows a mile and a half below Round Butte Dam. Midmornings and evenings are best. Wind-drift with a night crawler. Rainbows run to 18 inches; kokanee go 12 to 16. You'll need a tribal permit to fish here. Purchase one in Culver or Madras.
Wickiup Reservoir, Paulina Lake and East Lake are the places to find really big brown trout. Don't be afraid to use big baits, because these toothy predators thrive on kokanee and chubs. For hatchery rainbows at Paulina and East, fish the shallows and weedbeds.
Look to Lava Lake for rainbows that average 10 and 16 inches. Cast Rooster Tail spinners from rocky points or wind-drift with Power Bait.
South Twin receives heavy stocks of legal-sized and trophy-class fish all spring and summer. This is one of those places that routinely boots out big broodstock. Last year, several 6-pounders were landed and a 9-pound fish was weighed at the end of April. Rainbow and green Power Bait account for the most fish.
Crane Prairie should offer good angling for legal-sized rainbows, with the opportunity to boat a 10-pounder. Use two chironomid patterns in tandem, fished deep with an indicator.
As soon as the snow melts, make plans to fish for hatchery rainbows at 18-acre Walton Lake east of Prineville. You'll find good bank fishing, but a float tube or a small boat can help you reach more fish.
Good bets in north-central Oregon are 60-acre Kingsley Reservoir, near Hood River, and Pine Hollow Reservoir, west of Tygh Valley.
The ONFSR lists the Chewaucan River as one of the region's most productive watersheds. A ladder at the lower weir has enhanced fish passage. Two ladders for weirs upstream will be completed this year. Flowing northwest out of the mountains, the Chewaucan crosses the highway at Paisley. This river is managed for native redbands, some of which reach 20 inches; most are closer to 8 inches.
Ponderosa pines surround 50-acre Delintment Lake, high in the Ochoco Mountains northwest of Burns. If it didn't winterkill, fishing should be good for rainbows that run between 10 inches and 4 pounds.
Not far off the highway near Summer Lake is Ana Reservoir. In spring ODFW stocks plenty of trout here. A launch for small boats is available. Probe the points and deep water near the dam as well as edge habitat along the shallows.
Below the dam, the Ana River offers some surprisingly good spring fishing. Stream flows are reliable and the water temperature is constant, keeping insect hatches productive. Regular planting of hatchery rainbows keeps the fishery interesting. Bait fishing is allowed; the bag limit is five trout per day.
In Upper Klamath Lake and Agency Lake are some of Oregon's biggest rainbows. Bring a boat or a float tube. These lakes' average depth is 8 feet, with a few spots going 25 feet. Brass spoons, brown spinners and minnow imitations are good bets. Try a fast retrieve punctuated by frequent pauses. These fish like to chase their food.
Rainbows can grow upwards of 10 pounds. Angling is open all year with a bag limit of one trout per day.
Campbell and Dead Horse lakes, high in the Fremont National Forest, are two of the prettiest waters in southeast Oregon. Best of all, they have healthy populations of rainbow, brook trout and kokanee. These lakes are accessible from July through October in most years. Call the Forest Service in Paisley at (541) 943-3114 to check on the road's opening. Bring a small boat, raft or float tube.
Other good bets in southeast Oregon include 35-acre Yellowjacket Lake, 2,500-acre Thompson Valley Reservoir, where the fish can reach 24 inches, and 150-acre Krumbo Reservoir on the Steens' west.
When you fish Northeast Oregon, you'll want to bring good maps to follow forest roads and trails to great fishing. A Bureau of Land Management map will help define ownership before you trespass.
The South Fork Walla Walla River is prime bull trout habitat, and even though their population is in good shape, it's illegal to fish for them here. The fishing for 8- to 12-inch rainbows is good. The river is about 30 miles long and offers an unspoiled angling experience for those willing to risk the rattlesnakes and black bears that live here.
The Imnaha River, a tributary of the Snake, offers 75 miles of trout water, from its headwaters in the Eagle Cap to Eureka Bar. The upper river has good public access, but private land borders both banks on much of the lower river. Most anglers use spinning tackle, but the fly-fishing can be excellent with beadhead nymphs early in the season or 'hopper patterns in August and September. Bull trout must be released unharmed.
Strawberry Lake, a pretty, 31-acre rainbow and brook trout lake set high in the Strawberry Mountains, outside Prairie City. Bring a float tube or a canoe. Here, you'll find good fly-fishing for trout that run to about 15 inches.
Other good bets include Bull Prairie Reservoir, Willow Creek Reservoir and pretty Penland Lake, all stocked with legal rainbows. The best fishing on the lower Grande Ronde can be found in June as the water drops. Walk in or ride a mountain bike to reach remote waters.
Want a place to take the kids? Nine miles east of Umatilla is 6-acre Hat Rock Pond, which has smallmouth and largemouth bass and is stocked with catchable rainbows in spring.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
On hatchery fish, ODFW staff and volunteers remove the adipose fin (the small fatty fin between dorsal fin and tail). See the 2006 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations for details.
Rainbow, brook and cutthroats are
the principal trout raised in Oregon hatcheries, some 7 million of which are released annually. Eggs for production are taken from hatchery brood fish or from fish trapped and spawned in the wild.
For more on Oregon fishing, or to view the ONFSR, call (503) 872-5263 or visit www.dfw.state.or.us
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(Editor's Note: For a signed copy of Gary Lewis' book, Freshwater Fishing Oregon and Washington, send $22.95 -- which includes shipping and handling -- to Gary Lewis Outdoors, PO Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709; or you can order online at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.)