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It's Time For A Road Trip

It's Time For A Road Trip

Hit Oregon's highways now to get to these world-class trout-fishing destinations around the Beaver State. (April 2009)

Wanderlust is in our genetic code. Here at the end of the Oregon Trail, we are at the destination for the greatest road trip the world has ever known.

Midge, mayfly, caddis, stonefly, damsel and dragonfly hatches may occur throughout the season. Flying ants are another summer and fall food source.

Sam, 12, and Nolan King, 15 (right), try their luck at Harriet Lake on the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas during a weekend trout road trip.
Photo by Gary Lewis.

In April, our thoughts turn to trout fishing, and the traditional road trip on opening day and beyond. To make 2009 a year for great trout action, Washington-Oregon Game & Fish has identified some of the best fishing you will find out on the road this spring and summer.

The Willamette watershed is home to some of the best trout fishing in the state. Detroit Lake is at the top of the list because this reservoir is stocked with 100,000 to 120,000 legal rainbows each year. Upstream, the Breitenbush and the North Fork of the Santiam receive additional fish. Besides rainbows, this 3,580-acre reservoir is home to landlocked chinook salmon and kokanee as well as smaller populations of brook trout and cutthroats. The season opens April 25 this year, and angling success picks up in May as the water warms.

Bank access is good. From the shore, fish the North Fork Santiam River, Breitenbush River, Tumble Creek and French Creek arms. You could also fish beneath the Highway 22 bridge or at the dam.

Most fishermen bring a boat or rent one. Trolling is popular. Use flashers, 4 feet of leader and a spinner setup or small spoon tipped with bait.


The Clackamas River gathers water from several forks and dozens of tributary streams. Its proximity to Portland makes it a great bet for a springtime road trip. East of the town of Estacada is North Fork Reservoir where the fishing turns on with the late-May opener. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks close to 80,000 legal rainbows from May through September. The best fishing is found in the faster water at the upper end of the lake, near the marina and at the boat launches.

Popular trolling areas include the log boom in front of the dam, the north shore, near the lower launch and under the power lines.

Nearby, the one-acre Small Fry Pond is a great place to take the kids for a chance at a keeper. Fishing at Small Fry is limited to kids 14 and under.

Harriet Lake, a 23-acre reservoir on the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas, has become well known for trophy browns, rainbows, cutthroats and brook trout.

Bank-anglers prefer worms fished on a sliding sinker. Some use jar baits or salmon eggs to good effect. Try Rooster Tail spinners early and late in the day.

Flyfishermen do as well or better here than bait anglers. But the best fly-fishing is from a boat. The flooded timber makes this lake food-rich with plenty of structure and character. The head of the lake has a riffle, pools and islands like a river. Trout feed all day in the 3- to 5-foot water around the stumps and floating logs. Shadows concentrate the fish. A riffle on the water encourages them to elevate toward the surface. (Continued)

For the stream fisherman, the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas is one of the only fisheries in the state where you can catch and keep cutthroat trout. The fishing is limited to flies and lures, which presents a special challenge.

Down south, located high in the Willamette National Forest, Gold Lake is a 96-acre oval surrounded by Engelmann spruce, sub-alpine fir and mountain hemlock. It has the right combination of shallow water and depth to foster good insect growth and protection in cold winters. Rainbows are stocked in the summer and brook trout are prolific. Fishing is fly-only. Motors are not allowed.

If the road calls you to the coast, put the sunrise in your rearview mirror and head to Devils Lake at Lincoln City. This three-mile lake was named for an Indian legend about a monster that lived in the lake and occasionally dined on the natives. Like many of the lakes on the north coast, Devils Lake was formed when shifting sands dammed the river that drained the mountains. The D River, which empties the lake, is billed as "the shortest river in the world."

Fin-clipped rainbows are the primary catch. About 20,000 legals are stocked between early March and late April. Cutthroat trout, largemouth bass, bluegills, catfish and perch make their home in Devils Lake.

The best bank-fishing can be found near the parks. Boats are available to rent. Trollers score with flashers early in the season. When the water warms, trout seek out the deeper holes and the cold-water inlets.

Other good early-season bets on the north coast include Coffenbury and Cullaby lakes.

In 1958, engineers completed a rock-faced earthen dam on Grizzly Creek. Waters began to back up the old riverbed into grassy Howard Prairie and the tributary channels of Hoxie Creek and Willow Creek. Today, Howard Prairie Reservoir is part of a network of storage reservoirs that involves the inter-basin transfer of water between the Klamath and Rogue River watersheds. And it is one of the most important stillwater fisheries in southern Oregon.

The 2,070-acre lake is popular with boaters and the bank-bound alike. The best bank-angling is at Red Rock near the Willow Point campground, off the jetty near the Resort at Grizzly Creek campground and other rocky faces. Wheelchair access from the jetty makes it easy for the physically challenged.

Rainbows run 12 to 18 inches, but bigger fish are common. A 2-year-old holdover can go well over 20 inches. PowerBait and Berkley Gulp! produce limits for still-fishers. The best bet is to use a 4-foot leader to keep the bait out of the weeds.

Diamond Lake anglers saw a banner year in 2007. Holly Truemper, a fisheries biologist in the Roseburg office, said anglers reported the best fishing they've ever had in Oregon.

"Each year it's really good from ice-off until mid to late June. And it gets good again mid September to mid October," Truemper said. Truemper has been monitoring benthic productivity (the larval stages of bugs that hatch later in the season). "There is a lot of food for trout to eat. There should be some really nice, large fish availabl

e to catch."

The ODFW stocked 200,000 fingerlings last year, and half are expected to winter over, providing an estimated 100,000 to catch right off the bat. Expect the ODFW to augment the bounty with 20,000 legals soon after ice-off.

Flyfishermen should be prepared with chironomids, callibaetis, caddis and ant patterns. When no insect activity is evident, prospect on a slow-twitch-troll with a two-nymph setup.

Whatever method you employ, the secret is finding the feeders. Chances are, they will be near the weed beds or suspended, and will be letting the bugs come to them. Experiment with different depths until you hit the first fish.

If it's a mosey you crave, point your windshield toward central Oregon in May and try to time the salmonfly hatch. As the water warms in late May and early June, salmonfly and golden stonefly nymphs crawl toward shore. These monster flies struggle up out of the water to dry their wings, and perch in trees or in the tall streamside grass. Sometimes hanging out over the water, they fall in.

The migration stirs the taste buds of Deschutes River rainbows. And over the course of the next few weeks, trout that key on these golden mouthfuls grow as fat as footballs.

If it's dry-fly action you crave, timing is everything. You want to be there when the clouds of flies are black against the sky. Your best bet is to find a local fly shop and check in every couple of days for a report.

Fed by springs and marshes and bounded by lava outcrops and pine forest, Lava Lake is a scenic spot -- Mount Bachelor, South Sister and Broken Top are visible from the shoreline -- and one of the most productive fishing waters in central Oregon. It is a good place to bring the family for a boat ride and a great place to net a limit of big, fat rainbows.

Trout grow fast here. On years when the lake is accessible on opening day, anglers can catch fish from the bank by casting lures or employing jar baits. By June and July, the trout average 15 inches, and 18-inch rainbows are common in a five-fish limit. The ODFW stocks rainbows as 6-inchers. By the next season, the typical rainbow doubles in size.

The key to Lava's fishing is its insect life. Shallow waters and weeds promote abundant insects. The fish gorge themselves during the season.

The lake is easy to read. Outcroppings, marshes, shoals and rushes break up the shoreline. The average depth is 20 feet. Water level fluctuates with snowmelt. Weed growth in the summer can limit trolling efforts. The fish are still there, but they are easier caught with still-fishing techniques.

In the Newberry National Monument, east of La Pine, East Lake's rainbow trout fishing peaks in July with reliable hatches of mayflies and midges. Leeches and baitfish are other important foods. Brown, black and olive streamers can imitate damselflies and dragonflies, as well as leeches and minnows, depending upon the retrieve.

Browns can be caught shallow in the early morning and late evening. They are found around steep drop-offs and rock shelves in deeper water. Atlantic salmon average 10 to 15 inches and are often caught by fly-rodders plying the edges of the weedbeds on the eastern shore. Fly-anglers can take kokanee all season long on wind-drifted callibaetis nymphs.

A jewel in the Elk Horn Mountains, Anthony Lake is heavily stocked when the snow melts in the high country.

This 22-acre lake sits in the alpine shadow of Angel Peak. The Elk Horn Crest Trail runs along one side of the lake. Rainbow trout are the main catch, but there are brook trout in Anthony. Though anglers may catch fish anywhere, the best bank-fishing is at either end of the lake. The launch, in shallow water, is suitable for small boats. Some of the best trolling is where the shallows give way to deeper water straight out from the launch. While you are there, try nearby Mud, Grande Ronde and Black lakes. If you're a flyfisherman using a float tube, you have an advantage when you troll a tandem nymph rig with a slow-sink line.

Wallowa Lake is the largest natural lake in the northeast Oregon. It is home to lake trout, kokanee, bull trout -- which must be released -- and rainbow trout.

Rainbows are the main catch and most anglers pursue them near the mouth of the Wallowa River at the southern end of the lake where the river takes a hard right turn toward the bank. Most of the trout are hatchery stock that average 10-12 inches, but holdovers can reach 18 inches or more. All methods work, but flyfishermen can do very well in the spring in 10 feet of water at the mouth of the Wallowa River.

Wallowa Lake can be a good base camp for a hiking or horseback trip into the high country for brook trout and rainbows. In the spring, take the kids to one of several ponds stocked with catchable rainbows: Marr Pond in Enterprise, Victor Pond, west of Wallowa, and Wallowa Wildlife Pond.

Campbell Lake is a quiet lake nestled in the lodgepole pines in the upper Chewaucan watershed. It has 20 surface acres and a maximum depth of 20 feet. Rainbow trout make up most of the catch, but you might catch a brook as well.

Dead Horse Lake, one mile away, is Campbell's twin. It's hard to imagine a more pleasant place to fish. It is large enough, at 29 acres, to let the few anglers spread out. With ample shallows, muddy bottoms, submerged grass and drowned timber, insect production is good, which translates to a healthy fish population.

While moseying back from the lakes, stop to fish one of southeast Oregon's best trout streams. The Chewaucan is a clear-running forest river with slow, shallow pools, swift runs and small waterfalls. Good streamside habitat protects trout and provides insect production.

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