Best Fishing in Oregon
Wickiup Reservoir Kokanee
Source: Brian Russell and Mike Mansker
Photo courtesy of Brian Russell
Wickiup is one of the most unique and challenging kokanee fisheries in the state. It has two river channels, but the rest of the reservoir is quite shallow. It addition, it is an irrigation impoundment, so the water fluctuates all season. Places that are fishable in the spring can be dry by mid-summer. Yet, this fishery on average produces some of the largest kokanee in the state.
Wickiup is located southwest of Bend, easily reached from the Sunriver or La Pine areas.
By the Book – Wickiup Reservoir Angling Regulations
Most of the reservoir is open from the last Saturday in April to October 31. ODFW ended a 25-fish bonus bag limit long available for kokanee as well as looking at changes to protect trout spawning areas in the Deschutes River Arm, mentioned below. You can still keep five kokanee in addition to the regular trout limit. A wise angler will look at the latest regulations and emergency rule closures to make sure they are fishing under the very latest regulations.
Consult the regulations booklet or website for special rules for the Deschutes River Arm, upstream from ODFW marker located near West South Twin boat ramp. The area began closing earlier in 2017.
Know Before You Go – Shallow Water and Stumps
Wickiup was formed by flooding two river channels (Davis and Deschutes).
Outside of the river channels, the remainder of the reservoir is very shallow. It is very easy to go from 40 feet of water to 3 feet with old stumps just below the surface. Until one is familiar with the reservoir, caution is warranted when boating from one place to the next.
Wind waves at Wickiup also are a real concern. It can go from calm to 2-foot waves in 30 minutes, so if you are in a small boat pay attention to the weather.
The two main boat ramps are located at Gull Point and Gull Point Campground. There are minor boat ramps at North Davis Creek Campground, Sheep Bridge Campground, West South Twin Campground, Wickiup Butte Campground, Reservoir Campground and South Twin Campground. Note that a Northwest Forest Pass is required when using the Gull Point boat ramp.
Timing Your Trip – Spring and Early Summer Best
Just after the season opens in the springtime, when the fish are coming out of their winter “hibernation” and going on the feed, can be one of the best times to fish. Later spring and early summer are usually good as the water levels are still high and the water still cool. During mid- and late summer, the fishing can slow down as the water levels drop, and the water warms and gets more turbid. Angling can still be very good during the summer heat, but it can definitely be hit or miss.
Fish Finder – Plan According to Time of Year
Early in the season when the water is high, the fish are scattered throughout the reservoir. However, a popular spot, especially for jigging, is at the confluence of the Deschutes and Davis arms. If it is your first time on the water, simply look for the congregation of boats on anchor.
However, it is worthwhile to explore and not to limit yourself to a few areas. The reservoir is big and fish can be found in a wide variety of locations. Generally, fish are not found in the deepest parts of the channels early in the season.
As the water level drops, the fish move into deeper parts of the reservoir. Look for fish in the channels as well as along drop-offs. The kokanee in Wickiup seem to orient to structure more that fish in deeper lakes. Later in the year the fish will almost exclusively be found in the channels. Even when the wind kicks up, fishing is often manageable in the Deschutes channel.
Secrets to Success – Three Major Methods to Catch Wickiup Kokes
Both jigging and trolling can be very effective methods. Often when one method is working, the other is not. Start out with one method; if that does not produce, switch.
Jigging is more popular and effective early in the season. Both casting and retrieving and vertical jigging can be effective.
Gibbs Minnows and Buzz Bombs are among effective jigs. Popular colors are glow, orange, chrome and green. Tipping the jig with bait is usually not needed, but this can help if the fish are not cooperating.
Popular jigging areas include the confluence of the Davis and Deschutes channels, the Deschutes channel by Gull Point and by Goose Island. Anywhere fish are schooled up near the bottom can be a good place to try, Russell said.
In the spring when the fish are shallow, long-lining with gang trolls is very popular and effective. Popular gang trolls include Luhr-Jensen’s Ford Fenders or Cowbells and Mack’s Flashlite. Mack’s Wedding Ring spinners in red or green, or a variety of colors (such as orange, green, watermelon and pink) of Apex Kokanee Killer lures (Hot Spot Lures) and Rocky Mountain’s Assassin spinners are popular lures to fish behind gang trolls. During the summer, weight can be added to fish deeper.
Even when the fish are shallow, downriggers can still be used. In these conditions, Russell sometimes will set the downrigger ball between 5 and 15 feet. Fishing this shallow with downriggers requires adequate set-back to distance the lure from the boat. There are copious stumps, so later in the year use a short set-back when fishing deeper.
When using a downrigger, often a dodger (sling blade or herring style) is employed as an attractor instead of a set of gang trolls. Dodgers with UV tape have become very popular. At times, larger dodgers (00 or 000) will out-fish smaller dodgers (0000).
Hoochies from R&K or Rocky Mountain Tackle and PEE WEE UV Wiggle hoochies from Shasta Tackle are very effective lures at Wickiup. Spinners such as Rocky Mountain Assassins and Shasta Tackle Scorpions, as well as Apex Kokanee Killer lures, are consistent-producing lures. Pinks, oranges, greens and chartreuse 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.
There are times when there is no technique that will out-produce still fishing with bait. A prime time to try this is in August, as fish start staging prior to spawning and congregate in big schools in the cooler channels.
Fishing with bait is also very effective in the spring when kokanee first start feeding heavily on chironomids and scuds, but prior to switching to eating mostly daphnia. To find out, open the stomach of a fresh catch. To the human eye, chironomid larvae look like tiny worms, scuds are shell-backed freshwater shrimp with tiny legs and daphnia are zooplanktons that resemble green paste.
During these times, kokanee often prefer natural baits right on the bottom, so try still fishing. Effective baits include pieces of worm, white shoepeg corn, crawdad tails, periwinkles, maggots and salmon eggs, and especially combinations of baits. Try Mansker’s favorite recipe: a piece of crawdad meat, followed by a single corn kernel and tipped with a synthetic salmon egg, such as a PowerBait egg, which helps hold it all together. (Pro-Cure’s Korn Magic cure can be used to toughen shoepeg corn.)
Hook size will vary from small No. 10’s to larger No. 1’s, depending on bait volume. A great hook for single small baits is Gamakatsu’s hooks for tying caddis fly patterns in a Size 10. Drop shot and octopus style hooks in No. 6 to No. 1 are great for other baits. These hooks should be needle sharp.
Kokanee are subtle biters on bait, so set the hook quickly and with authority at the slightest movement. For a quicker hook-set, try small-diameter braided lines (6- to 10-pound test), which don’t stretch like mono. Kokanee are leader-shy, so an 8- or 10-pound test monofilament is a good choice.
If All Else Fails
When the water warms later in the season, the fish often lay right on the bottom. Try fishing as close to the bottom as possible – but if you do this, be prepared to lose some gear.
Mansker has a suggestion to get down to the fish without it costing a small fortune. In 2009, he started adding 60 feet of 30-pound braided line to a strong snap swivel on his main line. Then he ties his dodger or gang troll to the braided line.
“That way, when I get a bit from a Ponderosa or Lodgepole snapper (stump), I just lose my lure and save the expensive attractor,” Mansker said. “I get fishing again a lot quicker, too.”
The only downside is that fishing with braided line gives up because lighter monofilament has a lot more stretch.
Brian Russell lives between La Pine and Sunriver. He is a board member for Kokanee Power of Oregon. He fishes several central Oregon kokanee lakes, especially Wickiup Reservoir during the main season and Lake Billy Chinook in the winter.
Mike Mansker, who lives in Sisters, grew up catching kokanee in the 1960s and 1970s in Central Oregon and Idaho. He can often be found fishing for kokanee at Odell and Suttle lakes, in addition to Wickiup.
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