Best Fishing in Oregon
Wallowa Lake Rainbow Trout
Source: Gina Barstad
Photo courtesy of Wallowa Lake Marina
Beautiful Wallowa Lake’s nearly 300-foot depths serve up world-record kokanee and might one day yield a state record lake trout (mackinaw), but its shallower waters offer some of the most popular rainbow trout fishing in northeastern Oregon.
Hatchery trucks make regular stops at Wallowa. Besides pan-sized keepers, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife sometimes plant large hatchery brood trout weighing 5 to 10 pounds. Even the regular-sized fish can pack on weight and survive the winters here, and the lake only freezes in the colder years.
Joseph sits at the north end of the lake, and Enterprise is just up the road. The Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness are dotted with alpine lakes and crossed with rugged trails, drawing in the more adventurous.
Rules to Fish By
The lake is open all year for angling. There is a five-trout bag limit that applies to both rainbow and lake trout. There is a separate bag limit for kokanee: 25 in addition to trout, with no size restrictions on these land-locked sockeye salmon.
Bull trout must be immediately released unharmed.
Timing Your Trip — Nearly Year Round
The lake is open all year, and the rainbows can be caught literally any month, as long as ice or winter storms don’t get in the way. Limits are most likely from spring through late summer, when most stocking occurs.
Where to Catch Them — Stay Near Shore
Don’t fish for rainbow trout way down in Wallowa’s impressive depths. That’s where the kokanee and lake trout are much of the year, but the rainbows are far more likely to be 75 feet or less from the shoreline.
Good fishing areas for rainbows include both the north and south ends of the lake, which have more shallow water and good public bank access and boat ramps. The east shore offers good fishing between the river and the three-mile point, and also at the mouth of the Wallowa River.
How to Catch Them
Plunking with Berkley PowerBait or nightcrawlers is popular and effective from the bank or off a boat.
Casting lures also works well. Try retrieving Acme Kastmaster spoons (silver and orange is a good color pattern), Worden’s Rooster Tail spinners (black, brown and rainbow patterns) and Blue Fox spinners (blue and silver).
Boaters often troll. Try fishing over 15- to 30-foot depths. Many anglers simply troll an attractor ahead of a simple nightcrawler on a hook, or even the nightcrawler without the flasher or dodger.
Trolling lures also accounts for lots of fish. As with many places, the Mack’s Wedding Ring is commonly used, usually behind an attractor, but many other trout lures built for trolling will catch fish. Put a maggot or a piece of nightcrawler on the lure hook. Scent also can help boost the bite. Plain lures such as Rooster Tails also work well when trolled without an attractor and with or without a bit of weight.
“The most important things to remember while fishing for large rainbows is a long handled net and (to) have your drag set loose. These huge brooders will not be landed until they are tired. They are way too heavy to lift them out of the water.”
Gina Barstad and her husband, Bob, from May to mid-September each year operate Wallowa Lake Marina, which rents fishing boats and sells tackle, bait and other supplies.