East Lake is among a handful of Oregon’s very best lakes for trophy-sized brown trout, which are planted here and grow fat eating everything from small chubs to pan-sized rainbow trout and kokanee.
The volcanic caldera holding East Lake has what it takes to grow trophy brown trout – in fact, neighboring Paulina Lake produced the state-record brown when a 28-pound, 5-ounce monster was landed in 2002.
Now, recent rule changes will further encourage East Lake’s trophy brown trout fishery.
East Lake is located east of La Pine in Central Oregon, an easy drive from Bend and Sunriver.
By the Book – East Lake Angling Regulations
Starting in 2010, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife prohibits anglers from retaining brown trout larger than 16 inches. The new regulation adds teeth to an existing advisory that anglers limit their consumption of fish from East Lake, which have naturally high levels of mercury. Larger brown trout contain the highest levels of this toxin in the lake’s fish population.
Jones welcomes the new regulation, because catch-and-release fishing boosts survival of the lake’s biggest fish. “They don’t eat worth a darn anyway,” he said of browns commonly caught between 5 and 15 pounds.
East Lake opens for fishing from the fourth Saturday in April through Oct. 31.
Along with the special restrictions on brown trout, the daily bag limit is five trout and salmon total, with only one allowed over 20 inches. The minimum size is 8 inches. Additionally, rainbow trout must have been fin-clipped (hatchery reared) to be kept.
Know Before You Go
Snow and gnarly storms are possible almost anytime at East Lake, which sits close to 6,400 feet. Check conditions before you leave and be prepared for bad weather.
Also, due to natural mercury contamination, review consumption guidelines published in the annual Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.
Timing Your Trip – Ice-Out in Hot
East Lake freezes over every winter. Many years that sheet of ice won’t melt off completely until the second half of May.
As soon as open water appears, serious brown trout anglers walk in and pitch lures into it.
The better brown trout fishing holds up until about mid-June, and then the bite typically picks back up again in late September or October.
Fish Finder – Fish Shallower Areas Early
The ice starts clearing first in the southeastern part of the lake, near several underwater hot springs.
In the spring, whether from shore or boat, the shallower east and south sections have the best brown trout fishing. These include the areas around the hot springs, resort and Cinder Hill Campground.
In summer, when fish head to deeper water, anglers must follow. A favorite deeper trolling spot is “the slot” along the north shoreline, where the lake drops quickly to depths of 200 feet off the rock cliffs.
Secrets to Success – Diving Plugs Catch Most Big Browns
Brown trout are caught incidentally by various methods, but most anglers targeting them employ hard, fish-imitating crankbaits. Currently at East Lake, the hottest ticket for this kind of fishing are Trophy Sticks, particularly in the 5.5-inch size Baby Bow (trout) or Tasty Tui (chub) patterns. Another good option is Rapala’s line of floating plugs, typically in sizes F09 and F11. Effective patterns are rainbow trout and perch (which resemble the lake’s chubs).
Once you can get out on the water, most serious brown trout anglers switch to trolling this same class of lures. Run them at speeds of about 1.5 to 2 miles per hour, 150 to 200 feet behind the boat. Try fishing with a 20- to 30-pound braided mainline and a 10-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader.
Some veteran brown trout anglers will “rip” the plug as they troll. Constantly jerking and moving the rod tip imparts an erratic motion to the lure that can draw strikes.
Much of the early-season trolling takes place along the shorelines, maybe 50 to 100 feet off the bank over 15 to 20 feet of water. Sometimes, even shallower water is productive. Once warm weather sets in, downriggers are popular to get lures down to about 50 feet. Another option is leaded line, followed by about 10 feet of leader. Less ideal is attaching a 2- to 4-ounce mooching sinker ahead of the plug, which will get it down to the right zone but can impair the lure action.
By early fall, before the lake closes, many browns will move back into the shallower waters they inhabit during the spring.
If All Else Fails
If you want to get serious about catching a brown you can brag about, know that many successful trophy trout fishermen add scent to their lure. Pro-Cure Bait Scents make a couple of varieties popular at East Lake, where anglers will go so far as matching the Rainbow Trout scent with a rainbow-imitating plug and the Trophy Trout scent with a lure designed to look like a chub.
David Jones is a former owner of East Lake Resort. The resort offers cabins and an RV park, boat rentals, coffee hut and a store carrying fishing and general supplies.