Lake Billy Chinook is fed by three rivers, the Crooked, the Deschutes and Metolius. It is among the lowest-elevation kokanee fisheries in Central Oregon and is known for its large population of these land-locked sockeye, which find ideal spawning conditions in the Metolius River. Lake Billy Chinook also is known as Oregon's best fishery for bull trout, a large native char that is strictly protected in most state waters.
By the Book – Billy Chinook Angling Regulations
The old limit for kokanee here was 25 but was lowered following the opening of fish passage to the lower Deschutes River in 2010. The current limit includes kokanee in the five-trout bag limit, and kokanee over 16 inches are considered sockeye salmon and must be released unharmed. Rainbow trout over 20 inches are considered steelhead and must be released as well. Anglers may keep one bull trout at least 24 inches long as part of their limit. In fact, only one trout over 20 inches may be kept per day (there are some brown trout present).
Like many Central Oregon lakes, part of Billy Chinook is open to year-round angling. However, the long Metolius arm, one of the better cold-water fishing areas, falls under the jurisdiction of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. That part of the lake is open March 1 through Oct. 31 and requires an additional permit. For information, click here.
See ODFW regulations for a description of the boundaries of the Metolius arm.
Know Before You Go – Summer Power Boating
Lake Billy Chinook is popular water recreation destination. During the warm months the water skiing, wakeboarding and Jet Ski boats take over, so plan your fishing day to avoid mid-day heat.
There are three main boat ramps located at campgrounds: Cove Palisades State Park on the Crooked River arm; Deschutes Campground on the Deschutes arm; and Perry South on the Metolius arm. While the lake’s elevation is just below 2,000 feet, it is in a canyon and ice can be present on the boat ramps during the winter months.
Timing Your Trip – Good All Year
Many lakes experience poor kokanee fishing in the winter and early spring, but that is not the case at Lake Billy Chinook. The fish tend to be found in different locations at different times of the year, but they are usually willing biters. If you want to avoid recreational boaters, fish in the winter, spring and fall. If you are there in the summer, plan to fish early and late to avoid the pleasure boaters.
Fish Finder – Plan According to Time of Year
Early in the year, before the Metolius arm opens, look for fish in shallow shelves where they feed on aquatic insects, and out in open water. One of the best ways to find kokanee at Lake Billy Chinook is to look for jumpers. The Crooked arm by Cove Palisades, the mouth of the Deschutes arm and the deadline for the Metolius arm by the dam are good places to start. Once the Metolius arm opens, fish around Chinook Island and up by Perry South Campground.
Secrets to Success – Jigging, Trolling for Billy Chinook Kokes
Both jigging and trolling can be very effective methods.
When kokanee are spotted jumping, jigging is easily the best method. The top-producing jig is the Gibbs Minnow. Braid and Buzz Bomb jigs are also good producers. Having a variety of colors is important. Some popular colors are pink/pearl, orange, green and chartreuse.
If kokanee are schooled up near the bottom, vertical jigging is very effective. When jumpers are spotted, casting to the school and employing a jigging retrieve is often a great approach. Vary the sink time to work different depths in the water column to find where the fish are suspending. Most of the time adding bait to jig hooks is not necessary, but at times it is the difference in getting bites.
While downriggers are not required to catch kokanee trolling, they certainly help by allowing controlled-depth fishing. Popular set-ups without a downrigger include the use of flashers such as Luhr-Jensen’s Ford Fenders or Cowbells or Mack’s Flash Lite as attractors. Mack’s Wedding Ring spinners and Apex Kokanee Killer lures (Hot Spot Lures) are excellent choices to fish behind flashers. Small spoons, such as Luhr-Jensen’s Needlefish or Shasta Tackle’s Cripplure can be effective as times. Varying the amount of line let out will change the fishing depth. If fishing deeper is required, weight can be added in front of the flashers.
Fishing with downriggers uses some of the same terminal tackle, but allows for a wider variety of options. Often a dodger (sling blade or herring styles) is employed as an attractor instead of a set of flashers; Russell likes Shasta Tackle’s Sling Blade and Vance’s Tackle’s Herring Dodger, for examples.
Apex lures are a consistent-producing lure for this type of fishing, and Wedding Ring-type spinners, hoochies and a variety of spoons work well. Pinks, oranges, greens, purple and reds are all good colors.
Adding bait to lure hooks is the rule when trolling. White shoepeg corn in the most popular bait, but Berkley Gulp! Maggots, Pautzke’s Kokanee Fire Corn and worms can be effective.
If All Else Fails
The key to catching kokanee is to be flexible. If a lure set-up has not produced a fish in over 30 minutes and fish are being marked, change things up. Try a different color, different dodger or different bait. Try trolling faster or slower, deeper or shallower. The biggest schools of fish you mark on your fish finder may not be the biters.
Brian Russell lives between La Pine and Sunriver and has been fishing for kokanee since 1996. He is the Central Oregon director for Kokanee Power of Oregon. He fishes all the local central Oregon kokanee lakes, especially Wickiup Reservoir during the main season and Lake Billy Chinook in the winter.