Naming the best kokanee lake or reservoir in Oregon would be a difficult task, as some spots are home to millions of the tasty little salmon while others grow these landlocked salmon to quite respectable – and even world-class – size.
But it wouldn’t be so tough to name the best kokanee region in the state: Central Oregon.
Without a doubt, the rest of Oregon has some great kokanee lakes, but they are widespread.
“Kokanee fishing has become a lot more popular than it was 10 years ago,” said Jim Kielblock, owner of Shelter Cove Resort & Marina on Odell Lake, one of the West’s premier kokanee fisheries.
If you are planning a kokanee fishing trip anywhere around Bend, polish up on your kokanee tactics and head out to any of these favorite destinations (in alphabetical order):
Kokanee lakes are known for their ups and downs, and Crescent Lake is no different. But when it’s on, it can really be on. And kokanee typically range a healthy 13 to 17 inches, with plenty landed to 19 inches in the best years, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Ted Wise.
Crescent also offers rainbows and trophy brown and lake trout (Mackinaws). The five-fish limit includes kokanee and trout.
Tom Forestelle, former operator of Crescent Lake Lodge & Resort, says most anglers troll to catch Crescent’s kokanee. The old standby, a Mack’s Wedding Ring spinner trailing flashers or a dodger and white corn on the hook, will do the trick, as will other lures.
Lake Billy Chinook
This Deschutes River impoundment once was at the top of the charts, putting out untold numbers of kokanee for anglers who often scored the limit, which at that time was a generous 25 fish.
Billy Chinook is a bit less consistent these days, but it still has very good years. There are some unknowns here, including how the kokanee will fare as anadromous fish are being reintroduced to the upper Deschutes River system.
Kokanee also are a primary food for bull trout, which are struggling in most Oregon waters but are doing well enough at this reservoir to justify a rare harvest opportunity for the voracious char. The uncertainties prompted the ODFW to now include kokanee as part of the five-trout bag limit.
If you want to choose one kokanee lake and stick with it season after season, it would be hard to beat Odell. This is a big, deep and stable lake with kokanee schools that can get so thick they’ll fool your fish finder into thinking the bottom suddenly shifted upward 200 feet.
Trolling remains popular at Odell, where Kielblock at Shelter Cove Resort says popular lure choices include Rocky Mountain Tackle Company’s Assassin Spinners, Shasta Tackle’s Scorpion Spinners and Fishing with Father Murphy’s Kokanee Bugs. Jigging is also big at Odell, with popular jigs from Point Wilson, P-Line and Gibbs.
One rap on Odell is that the fish average a modest 12 to 13 inches most years, topping out at 15 inches in peak seasons, although great action and a 25-kokanee bonus limit tends to make up for lack of trophy-sized kokanee. (The trophies here are the state record-setting lake trout.)
The good old days don’t come quite as often as they used to at Paulina, in Newberry Crater southeast of Bend. But this gem in a volcanic bowl still pumps out some big kokanee, along with bigger brown and rainbow trout.
The increase of nonnative chubs may be contributing to a downhill trend at Paulina by disrupting the food chain.
Paulina is the source of eggs used to restock this lake, Crescent and some California waters with kokanee. The five-fish limit includes kokanee and trout.
Also see: Paulina Lake Fishing.
A great family spot and a decent brown trout lake, this original sockeye spawning ground in the Deschutes Basin’s pre-dam era these days can be anything but subtle when the kokanee are biting. Yet, kokanee here are fickle and some years run small. “Depending on the year it can be very good,” Wise said.
Suttle Lake also has a bonus bag of 25 kokanee in addition to trout.
Also see: Suttle Lake Fishing
Big, rather shallow for a typical kokanee hot spot and has a reputation for being hard to master, this upper Deschutes impoundment ranges from frustrating to fantastic.
But fluctuating water conditions and other factors can make the boom and bust cycles particularly severe, and recent years have been pretty terrible, to be honest. The kokanee can run quite big here. Best to check ODFW’s weekly recreation report for recent success rates.
It’s another of the state’s top destinations for brown trout – which grow pot bellies feasting on all those kokanee.