Big trout. We hear that phrase bandied about, but what does it mean?
These are the fish that we talk about in pounds not inches. A rainbow that tips the scales at 10 pounds. A brook trout that weighs in at 6 pounds. An 8-pound brown trout. A 10-pound cutthroat. A 20-pound lake trout. A 10-pound bull trout. These are the big fish, the lifetime fish, the fish that go on the wall, whether in picture frames or as lifesize replicas. They are representative of the one trout in 100,000 that grow to outsize proportions, that live long enough to attain outlier size. A few Central Oregon waters have the potential to grow these fish, but the angler has to change tactics to target them. In most cases that means switching to bigger baits and flies and slowing down retrieves, reaching deeper water where big predatory trout are on the prowl.
The big fish hunter doesn’t spend much time at put-and-take fisheries. In Central Oregon, he or she focuses on just a few waters – mostly the food-rich lakes and reservoirs where fish grow fast and once they attain respectable size, they keep growing.
For brown trout, Paulina Lake and Wickiup Reservoir are at the top of the list. East Lake would come in third place. All three of these lakes have good numbers of brown trout and a large supply of the kokanee these fish need to grow large.
For the biggest rainbows, Crane Prairie Reservoir and Wickiup Reservoir are well known. An even better destination is Agency Lake or Upper Klamath Lake, fed by the Williamson River and the Wood River and smaller tributaries, these shallow, protein-wealthy lakes can grow wild rainbows to 20 pounds. For large, hatchery rainbows, an angler should consider Diamond Lake as well, where planters can put on an inch of length a month over the spring and summer months.
For brook trout, the best places to try for a trophy include Crane Prairie Reservoir and Hosmer Lake. A serious brook trout enthusiast should also put Elk Lake and Waldo Lake on the list.
The angler that wants to tangle with a big bull trout should spend a few days on Lake Billy Chinook. Here bull trout can go into the double digits. Best time to target them? Try the month of May before the gluttonous predators follow the kokanee to deep water.
In Central Oregon, the biggest trout of all (technically char, not trout) is the lake trout, or mackinaw. These aggressive fish-eaters were stocked in several lakes in the 1950s and have thrived in Odell Lake, Crescent Lake and Cultus Lake. Because of a huge food base at Odell, it is believed the next state record will come from there. We have observed 10-pound lake trout with teeth marks on their flanks. It is a big fish that tries to eat a 10-pounder!
Private Trophy Waters
Another way to go after trophy fish is to focus on private waters, stocked with fast-growing rainbow trout. Tucked away on ranches and farms in and around Central Oregon, there are a number of fisheries that are managed for fly-fishing-only, catch-and-release. Some operate in spring and fall, while others are managed for year-round fishing.
Located near Sisters, Oregon, Alder Creek Ranch and Long Hollow Ranch offer daily rates for fly-fishing.
Near Madras, Fessler Lake is well known for trout to 10 pounds and beyond.
For a wide selection of trout options in north central Oregon, look at Justesen Ranch, which has 30 managed lakes and ponds near Shaniko, Grass Valley and Tygh Valley. East of Prineville, Antone Ranch has five lakes with large rainbows. Grindstone Lakes have a number of impoundments with trout that grow to 12 pounds or more.
South and east of La Pine, Lake in the Dunes is another good option with several lakes stocked with big trout.
East of Klamath Falls, Pronghorn Lake is a large, shallow body of water, managed for big rainbows.
Wherever you find them, big fish don’t come easy. They break rods, they are too big for our nets and sometimes they are longer than our tape measures and too heavy for our scales. But they are out there in Central Oregon waters. And they have to eat. Now go and feed them!
We have created the ultimate guide to help you land a trophy trout. If you want to land a trophy trout in Central Oregon, you need to know where to go, what time of the year is best, what time of the day to fish, and what they’re biting on. The 6th edition of FISHING Central Oregon features over 500 color photos highlighting more than 200 lakes and streams, providing all the necessary details to land a trophy!