Fishing in Crescent Lake is a little like going to a restaurant that puts all of its best dishes on one sampler plate. At one location, Crescent offers some of Central Oregon’s larger kokanee, has some mighty fine rainbows and is increasingly known for lunker brown trout.
Even with all that going on, Crescent is one of Oregon’s best lake trout waters and has produced mackinaw within 4 pounds of the state record caught at nearby Odell Lake. And whereas fierce winds and seasonal closures will chase boaters off Odell, the lower-elevation Crescent is frequently fishable all day and sometimes all year long, weather and access permitting.
By the Book – Crescent Lake Angling Regulations
Crescent is open all year.
The daily limit of five trout (at least 8 inches in length) may contain only one fish over 20 inches – and if that one is a mackinaw, it must be at least 30 inches long. Remember that lake trout are long-living fish that take a long time to reach breeding age, so they are more prone than some species to over-harvesting.
Kokanee are counted in the trout limit.
Know Before You Go – Winter Access Can be Tricky
While the lake is open all year, and some years the fishing itself is worthwhile all 12 months, the public boat ramp typically closes for the coldest season.
Timing Your Trip – Spring Peak for Macks
While this can be a year-round fishery, March through May (and sometimes into June) is typically tops for mackinaw. In some years, good fishing will hold up into the summer or be quite good in the fall.
The winter spawning period, from December through February, can be tougher some years, and in the coldest years you may encounter ice on the water clear up into March. Other years, such as the mild winter of 2009-10, mackinaw fishing can be a fantastic at Crescent right through the winter while trout fisheries elsewhere are slow or closed.
Fish Finder – Look for Structure
Crescent Lake’s depths reach around 300 feet at full pool. Right after typical ice-out in March there is a short window when you can find them in 10 to 50 feet of water. For much of the rest of the year, the lakers most often run deep.
Kroll most often prowls water in the 100- to 170-foot range, but within those areas you will often find them atop humps that rise to depths of less than 100 feet with deeper water around them. He also finds lake trout at mid-range depths sitting on long flats.
Two locations where lake trout anglers often succeed are out from the summer homes on the north side of the lake and off the Boy Scout Camp on the southeast end. Using your fish finder, concentrate on the underwater humps and points in those areas.
Secrets to Success – Troll Large Lures for Crescent Mackinaws
Kroll, a former pro-staffer for Scotty downriggers, usually goes after mackinaw by trolling.
In the early season, when the water temperature is in the 30s to low 40s, he’ll usually choose a slow-wobbling plug like a Worden’s FlatFish or Luhr Jensen Kwikfish in larger sizes, two standbys among mack anglers. Luhr Jensen’s J-Plug, which is designed to run faster, also can be used for slower speeds early in the season. Use the slow wobblers in large sizes and run them at just 0.7 to 1.2 miles per hour early in the season.
When the water warms to 45 to 50 degrees, the lake trout will chase a lure trolled at a faster clip, 2.2 mph and above. The J-Plugs work well at those speeds, as do Yo-Zuri, Rapala and other stickbaits in heftier sizes.
However, his favorite fast-trolling lure is Hot Spot’s Apex lures in the 4½- and 5½-inch sizes. He runs these up to 4 mph without a dodger or other attractor.
Fishing at depths, Kroll almost always chooses a lure with a glow or fluorescent finish.
Like many anglers who troll for trophy trout, Kroll uses a braided mainline (40- or 50- pound test), but he typically runs up to 100 feet of 15- to 20-pound monofilament line from the downrigger release clip to the lure to provide a little stretch that he believes helps with the hook-set. Also, having that leader well behind the boat buys him enough time to adjust his lure’s depth as the bottom topography changes.
“The whole deal is putting (your lure) in front of them,” Kroll said.
Although he has used jigging far less than trolling, it can be an effective option for anglers who can pinpoint the fish and keep their boat over productive areas. This is easiest on flat water and with the help of an electric motor.
A variety of metal jigs often used for saltwater salmon fishing will catch mackinaw (as well as kokanee), especially in glowing finishes. In the coming seasons, Kroll also plans to spend more time jigging swimbaits made by Berkley and other companies. These soft plastics are more commonly used by bassers and other warmwater specialists, but they are starting to catch the attention of trophy trout anglers.
Kroll likes to use scents on his lures. For example, he recommends Pro-Cure’s tui chub flavor on stickbaits. Shrimp or anchovy are other fine choices to jazz up lake trout lures, and he’ll often apply a slower-releasing paste and sometimes supplement with a liquid scent.
If All Else Fails
Finding and fishing for lake trout on structure takes a good bit of effort to master. Sometimes the easiest solution to locating big macks is to step into their buffet line. Look for schools of kokanee out in the open water, often suspended somewhere in the top 100 feet over very deep water. The kokes will show up on your fish finder or they’ll be underneath a pack of boats going after them. Under those kokes, in all likelihood, will be some hungry mackinaw.
Simply troll your large trout lures just under or right through the schools to resemble the easiest kokanee for a big trout to catch. “Stack” your rods so your lures run at various depths in the water column.
Former guide Steve Kroll worked on both Crescent and Odell lakes for more than 20 years. At both lakes combined, he has caught eight mackinaw over 30 pounds, including a 36½ pounder that might be the biggest ever landed at Crescent. He lives in Sunriver and currently fishes Central Oregon’s many lakes strictly for fun.