Editor’s Note: As the result of a court case related to salmon passage, Green Peter Reservoir was been drawn down to historically low levels in late 2023. As of early 2024, we’ve seen big kokanee die-offs but don’t yet know how the fishery will respond as it is currently refilling. If enough kokanee survived to support a fishery, the average size could be up because there may be less competition for food. Overpopulation has been holding down the size of kokanee here for years. However, if too many were killed off, kokanee fishing could be tough. Trout will still be stocked, and the lake’s under-the-radar smallmouth bass fishery seems likely to rebound. We’ll know more with our next update.
Green Peter Reservoir has a decent fishery for stocked rainbow trout and a growing number of smallmouth bass, among other species.
But this large reservoir within an easy drive of the Willamette Valley primarily is best known as western Oregon’s premier kokanee fishing lake.
While Detroit Lake to the north in recent years has picked up steam as a rising kokanee fishery, with larger fish on average, Green Peter is still the place to go if you’re looking to fill a long stringer with these landlocked sockeye salmon.
Just know that the kokanee in recent years have been running small, often 10 inches or under.
Regular kokanee anglers blame the sheer numbers of kokanee, which reproduce very successfully but then don’t have enough food for that many fish to grow to larger sizes.
Green Peter is located at about 1,000 feet in elevation in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains above Sweet Home, east of Albany and Corvallis. Figure driving a bit over an hour from either Salem or Eugene.
At full pool, the reservoir is more than 3,700 acres and nearly 10 miles long. It is used for flood control and power generation in addition to recreation.
Green Peter is fed by the Middle Fork Santiam River and creeks including Quartzville, Whitcomb and Tally.
(For more about Green Peter’s overall fishing options, go to Fishing at Green Peter Reservoir.)
There is a bonus limit of 25 kokanee, which is in addition to the bags allowed for other species. A temporary rule was put in place in 2022 that prohibited the retention of Chinook salmon, which are being restored in the river system. We suspect this rule will become permanent, so definitely check for updates.
Green Peter Reservoir is open all year long for angling, but check ODFW’s Sport Fishing Regulations (Willamette Zone) for season information on the reservoir’s tributaries and drainages.
Know Before You Go – Summer Power Boating
Green Peter Reservoir is becoming an increasingly popular area for water skiers, wakeboarders and Jet Skiers, especially as the warmer weather sets in. Plan your fishing trip for early morning to avoid the heat and added boat traffic.
There are two main launching areas at Green Peter.
The most popular ramp is Thistle Creek, which is generally usable all year, even when the reservoir is drawn down in the fall.
Whitcomb Creek Park has a campground and launch facility that is usable most of the summer, until water levels become too low.
Best Time to Catch Kokanee
Kokanee fishing is good from late May through late September, with July and August usually being the most productive months.
When the lake is drawn down a bit and the surface temperature is above 70 degrees, usually the fishing improves.
In late September and early October, the kokanee begin to show spawning colors and lose some scales while preparing to make their spawning voyages into Tally Creek and other drainages.
In the fall and winter months, juvenile kokanee are available but are not as cooperative in biting as during warmer months.
Where to Fish
Starting about June, look for kokanee on the shoulders of Green Peter’s points, where the fish often hold. The water near the dam is another good producer in June.
If neither of those spots produces, head for open water, where often you will find willing biters suspended at different depths according to water conditions.
The area near Whitcomb Island is popular and generally produces fish.
Bank fishing for kokanee is nearly impossible in most places around Green Peter, but many anglers try their luck jigging from “Fisherman’s Bridge” over the Whitcomb Creek arm or from booms in front of the dam.
Green Peter can be challenging as the water levels, temperatures and turbidity change frequently.
If you are unfamiliar with the lake, hunt for willing biters by watching other anglers and noting their locations when they net fish.
How to Catch Kokanee
Jigging and trolling are the most effective methods of catching fish.
Anglers who are proficient at jigging can put a lot of fish in the boat quickly.
Anglers often try to stay over of a school of kokanee while using both horizontal and vertical jigging methods, with the horizontal approach usually the most effective.
Gibb’s Minnow and Buzz Bomb are among the most popular jigs at Green Peter.
Usually the best color at any given time is the one where the display peg at the local tackle shop is empty, so stock up with a variety of colors because kokanee change their minds by the minute some days.
Trolling is by far the most popular method of fishing for kokanee at Green Peter.
Earlier in the year, anglers can reach kokanee without downriggers by “long lining,” using a set of Luhr Jensen Ford Fenders, Cowbells or any multiple-bladed lake trolls. If unable to reach the fish, add some weight in front of the flashers.
Rising water temperatures drive kokanee to deeper, cooler water.
Kokanee are often feed in the thermocline, where their favorite food (zooplankton) is most prevalent. If you can measure lake temperatures at depths, look for water that is 54 degrees.
In the heat of summer, downriggers are almost a necessity to troll for kokanee holding deep. The downrigger allows you to precisely match the depth of your tackle to the depth of fish showing on your finder.
For downrigging, dodgers create a movement of the terminal tackle that kokanee prefer over the action provided by flashers.
Shasta Tackle produces a sling blade dodger that is very versatile and can be shaped to exaggerate its swing and enhance the lure’s action. Other dodgers that are very popular are from Vance’s Tackle and SEP’S Pro Fishing.
Many manufacturers are now using ultra-violet tape on their dodgers, making them more effective.
When it comes to terminal tackle, Walker said the options are nearly endless. He catches many kokanee on hootchies, and spinners and Apex lures are excellent producers.
R&K Spinners, a small Oregon company, produces handmade spinners and hootchies that are dynamite at Green Peter, especially trolled slowly behind a Size 3 Shasta Tackle UV dodger.
Uncle Larry’s Lures, Rocky Mountain Tackle’s Assassin and the old standby, a Mack’s Wedding Ring, are all good spinners for Green Peter.
Brighter lure colors, especially pink and orange, produce most consistently here, but the other shades work better at various times.
Most trollers tip lure hooks with bait, often white shoe-peg corn and some Pro-Cure scent. Ready-to-use alternatives include Berkley Maggots or Pautzke’s Fire Corn.
A Final Secret
Kokanee are downright fickle. If they won’t bite, change your lure style or color, switch your attractor, lengthen your leader, do whatever it take until you get strikes.
Walker’s rule of thumb: If marking fish on the finder but not getting strikes while fishing among them in 15 to 20 minutes, it is time for a change.
One easy thing to try is trolling in an “S” pattern; the boat turns alter the depth and speed of the lure, often triggering strikes.
Pick up even more Kokanee Fishing Techniques and Tips.
Return to Oregon’s Best Kokanee Fishing page.
For other western Oregon kokanee fishing options, see: Best Kokanee Fishing in Oregon (Outside Central Oregon)
Ron Walker lives in Sweet Home near Green Peter Reservoir, which he fishes at least a couple times a week during the top season. He has been active with Kokanee Power of Oregon and also fishes for kokanee in several Central Oregon lakes, including Crescent, Paulina and Odell.