Best Fishing in Oregon

North Fork Reservoir Rainbow Trout

Source: Ken Bear Cole

North Fork Reservoir is part of a Portland General Electric hydropower complex on the Clackamas River just east of Estacada, in the foothills of Oregon’s Cascade Range an easy drive from the Portland area.

While the Clackamas is perhaps best known among serious anglers as a close-in steelhead and salmon fishing river from the dams downstream to the Willamette River, up here the narrow North Fork impoundment is primarily a family fishery with plentiful and cooperative rainbow trout. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife generously stocks the reservoir with catchable rainbows from mid-spring to early fall. Most of the catch is comprised of fresh hatchery planters in the 8- to 12-inch range.

North Fork Reservoir, named after the North Fork of the Clackamas that joins the mainstem at the lake, is the uppermost of a trio of stocked reservoirs that also includes Faraday Lake and River Mill Reservoir (a.k.a. Estacada Lake).

By the Book – North Fork Reservoir Angling Regulations
North Fork Reservoir, in ODFW’s Willamette Zone, uses the same river opener applied to salmon and steelhead rivers in the region. It is open from the fourth Saturday in May through Oct. 31.

The daily limit is five hatchery trout, which must have a clipped and healed adipose fin. There is no longer a minimum length for fin-clipped trout; only one trout over 20 inches may be retained. You can keep any non-native brown or brook trout caught here, but all salmon and steelhead smolts must be released unharmed.

Know Before You Go
Editor’s Note: The new facilities have reopened at Promontory Park.

North Fork Reservoir is popular with water-skiers and other power-boating enthusiasts on hot summer days. There is a speed-restriction zone on the upper end.North Fork Reservoir is popular with water-skiers and other power-boating enthusiasts on hot summer days. There is a speed-restriction zone on the upper end.

Timing Your Trip – Early Summer and Early Fall are Best
During cool springs, especially in years with healthy snowmelt, North Fork Reservoir’s water can be a bit cold for ideal fishing in the first few weeks. Cole has found water temperatures in the low 40s at the opener, while the best bite often occurs when the water is closer to 55 degrees.

The ideal conditions usually exist from June through July and sometimes into early August. The fishing slows a bit in the hottest weeks, but thanks to cooler weather and late-season fish plantings, angling picks back up again into September and through October.

Fish Finder – Shore and Boat Access
Shore anglers will find good access to willing fish near the boat ramp closest to the dam, which is at the northwest end of the reservoir (closest to Estacada). Another good spot is on the lake side of the bridge that crosses the North Fork tributary at about mid-reservoir, just before reaching Promontory Park, where there is another boat ramp, marina and accessible fishing pier.

For boat anglers, try fishing from under the large power lines downriver past the North Fork inlet area. Or, a popular spot is down the reservoir farther, from a natural point up past the lower boat ramp, which is where much of the stocking occurs.

Secrets to Success – Bait Fishing and Trolling to Catch
Fishing with bait is the preferred technique for shore anglers. Many use a small ball of Berkley PowerBait, floating the hook just off the bottom.

However, Cole prefers the bobber method, which he said is exciting for many anglers because the bites are visible. He often fishes a piece of nightcrawler, salmon eggs or PowerBait products between 3 and 6 feet beneath the float. When the fishing is a bit tough, he’ll bait up with a small cluster of salmon roe.

Cole recommends a 4-pound test leader for North Fork Reservoir, where very few of the fish will threaten light leader. He likes Berkley Vanish, a fluorocarbon line that all but disappears in the water and holds up well.

Trolling works well at North Fork Reservoir. Flashy attractors help draw strikes, and Cole typically uses a smaller set of blades like many kokanee anglers employ to cut the drag. It might take ¼ to 1 ounce of weight to drop the rig down to fish level.

He’ll follow the attractor with about 3 feet of the Vanish leader and either a lure or a third of a nightcrawler. When fishing with crawlers, he’ll thread them on a No. 2 bait hook, which is large enough to help prevent smaller salmon and steelhead smolts from swallowing the bait.

Lures that work well include small spoons such as Luhr Jensen Super-Dupers and Dick Nites. Cole sprays artificial lures with nightcrawler-scented Berkley Gulp Alive.

While trolling, vary your motor speed and your trolling path to change the action of your bait or lure. “I kind of look like a drunken sailor out there,” Cole said.

If All Else Fails
In the middle of summer, skiers can make the lake surface choppy, but it doesn’t mean you have to quit fishing. Cole has found that power boaters frolicking across the lake sometimes do him a favor by concentrating trout around the reservoir edges. At these times, focus your attention as close as 10 feet from the bank.

Ken Bear Cole has worked as a fishing guide on North Fork Reservoir, Henry Hagg Lake and Detroit Lake.

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