Applegate Lake in Southern Oregon offers reliably good (and often great) fishing, especially for trout and bass.
In fact, you can count on the fishing at Applegate Lake (often called Applegate Reservoir) so often that it’s one of the featured waters in our article, Southwest Oregon’s Best Fishing Lakes.
The nearly 1,000-acre reservoir is located in the Siskiyou Mountains just north of the California border and an easy drive from Medford and the Interstate 5 corridor.
The reservoir is open year-round and can offer some pretty good fishing any time of the year as long as there’s a decent weather window.
At nearly 2,000 feet in elevation, it definitely can snow here but typically isn’t socked in for long periods most winters.
Access for both bank and boat anglers is generally very good here, especially during the best fishing seasons. However, stormy periods in the winter as well as late-season draw-downs can pose some challenges to access.
When the water is low, which can start in late summer or into fall and extend through winter, boat access is limited to the ramp at French Gulch.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife generously stocks the lake with hatchery-reared rainbow trout. Most of the legal fish are planted during the spring, often in the April and May time frame.
Fishing for these trout will be exceptionally good once the stocking begins and into the middle of summer.
The lack of stocking combined with hot weather or low water levels will slow things up a bit in the heat of summer, but trout anglers here literally can catch at least some fish any day of the year that they can get out on the lake.
Bank anglers often turn to bait such as nightcrawlers or PowerBait.
Boaters do very well trolling here all year long.
Trolling a Wedding Ring spinner with a piece of nightcrawler on the hook or even just a plain nightcrawler, will catch fish. This is most effective when your lure and bait are fished behind a dodger or flashers to get the fishes’ attention.
Learn more about basic trout fishing techniques.
ODFW also has planted young Chinook salmon in the reservoir at times. They aren’t as commonly caught as the trout but have made up an occasional catch some years.
These fish can be anywhere from pan-sized to double digits in weight. They count toward the trout limit here.
Besides the cold water trout and salmon, Applegate is home to some pretty good warmwater fishing, including both smallmouth and largemouth bass.
As with many places where the bass species compete head to head, the smallmouths are the most numerous.
There’s enough action for these fish that we have the reservoir as an honorable mention on our article about the best smallmouth bass fishing in western Oregon.
Most of these red-eyed bass will be on the small side here, but you’ll catch an occasional larger one. No matter the size, smallmouth bass are aggressive biters and excellent fighters.
Smallmouths often associate with rocky structures including dam faces, points and others.
Largemouths are less common but can grow to impressive size here.
They are more commonly found in shallower coves and like weeds, woody structures and other places from which they can ambush prey.
The Carberry Creek Arm has some submerged timber that might be worth trying for some of the lake’s bigger largemouth, and probably smallmouth bass as well, according to the Fishing in Oregon guidebook.
How to Catch Applegate Lake Bass
Typical bass lures should do the trick with both types of bass here.
Crankbaits, plastic worms and grubs, spinnerbaits and other lures that imitate prey or illicit a strike out of aggression will work here.
A topwater lure might be fun during warm-water conditions, especially at sunset when bass (including big largemouths) are more likely to break the surface for dinner.
Upgrade your knowledge by checking out our simple bass fishing techniques and tips article.
Catfish and Crappie Fishing
Applegate Lake also has some additional fishing opportunities, including a pretty robust population of bullhead catfish and a modest number of crappie.
Bullheads bite best on bait, including worms, cut baits (left from cleaning fish or bring some shrimp or prawns), or prepared catfish baits. Still-fishing with those on the bottom is among the most common catfish fishing methods.
Try different depths for bullheads. They will move into shallower flats to feed during the evenings and can provide a fun fishery for young anglers.
Crappie are a schooling fish often associated with cover. They really like submerged trees (such as Carberry Creek area) and branches, docks and piers, but also will gather around drop-offs and other hidden cover.
Small jigs are the go-to for crappie fishing, but they also will hit very small crankbaits, spinners and other lures that also imitate small fish. Find more crappie fishing tips.
A fish-finder can be helpful for finding schools of crappie.
Bank and Boat Access
Access for both bank and boat anglers is generally very good here, especially during the best fishing seasons.
However, stormy periods in the winter as well as late-season draw-downs can pose some challenges to access.
When the water is low, which can start in late summer or into fall and extend through winter, boat access is limited to the ramp at French Gulch on the northeast side of the reservoir off French Gulch Road.
Please note that Applegate Lake has a 10 mph speed limit for boats. This is great for anglers, kayakers, stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) and similar small craft, and lovers of a mellower nature experience, but plan to use the water skiing boats and Jet Skis elsewhere.
Camping and Day Use Activities
In addition to ample day-use areas, there are multiple campgrounds around the lake and a few more along the Applegate River.
The general store is open seasonally at Hart-Tish Park, one of the larger facilities and a good starting point.
Other popular activities at Applegate including hiking, bicycling, canoeing and, of course, camping.
Getting to Applegate Lake
To get to the reservoir from either Medford or Grants Pass, take Highway 238 to the community of Ruch. From there, turn south on Upper Applegate Road to reach the reservoir.
Figure about 45 minutes from Medford and a little under an hour from Grants Pass.