Simply put: Crane Prairie Reservoir is legendary among the many great trout fisheries in Central Oregon.
Local fly fishing author Harry Teel (Fly Fishing Central & Southeastern Oregon) put it this way: “If you have time to fish only one place on your trip to central Oregon and want the opportunity to catch trophy fish, test your skills at Crane Prairie.”
Another author, John Huber (Flyfisher’s Guide to Oregon), was specifically writing about a damselfly hatch but expresses Crane Prairie’s frequent awesomeness when writing: “If you encounter a big hatch and an equally big rise … you might as well sit down and light a cigar when it’s all over because that’s as good as it gets anywhere.”
And on our own website, we have Crane Prairie prominently included in our articles covering Best Fly Fishing Lakes in Oregon, Best Rainbow Trout Lakes in Oregon and Central Oregon’s Best Fishing Lakes and Reservoirs (South of Bend).
Crane Prairie ‘Cranebows’ and other Game Fish
Crane Prairie is best known among anglers for its tremendous ability to grow trout.
The top prize here are the football-shaped rainbows sometimes called “Cranebows,” which are regularly caught in the 4-5 pound range. Ten-pounders are caught just about every year around here.
There also is a decent population of brook trout that also grow to nice size, although not usually as large as the rainbows.
Crane Prairie also has a modest fishery for kokanee (land-locked sockeye salmon) and to the consternation of trout purists offers a pretty darned good fishery for largemouth bass.
About Crane Prairie Reservoir
The shallow reservoir covers some 4,000-plus acres, roughly five square miles, a fair bit of which is 10 feet or shallower in depth and covered by timber that was left standing generations ago when the dam was built.
Old river channels offer depths to 20 feet and cooler waters.
Crane Prairie was named for the historic meadows the stretched along the Deschutes River at this location.
Prior to the dam being built, the meadows would flood in the spring and cranes would flock into the area to feed in temporary marshlands, lending their name to the spot.
Now, instead of cranes, the fish feed in the extremely rich waters, cruising its channels and spreading out through the dead-tree studded shallows on the prowl for insects and other forage.
While fly fishing is hugely popular here, there are no regulations that require it. Conventional anglers also often do very well here with lures, bait and flies, not just fishing for trout but for other species as well.
Note that most of the shorelines are shallow, and bank fishing is more limited here than some places. If you are on foot, or in waders, there’s some productive water near the dam on the south end.
Having a small boat, a float tube, pontoon or other small craft will improve your fishing success dramatically here, because you simply will be able to get to many more fish.
You will find a relatively close boat launch on whatever side of the lake you choose, such as near campgrounds and the resort.
You can bring your motor boat, but due to the fishing focus here, boats are limited to a 10 mph speed limit.
When to Fish at Crane Prairie Reservoir
Crane Prairie is open to fishing seasonally, starting in late April and continuing through October.
Anglers can do well from opening day, but expect it to be a little tougher in the first month or so.
Also, spring weather at this elevation (4,450 feet) can be brutal at times, especially if you’re out on big water or camping in a tent.
June into September is often considered the very best time to fish Crane Prairie. The insect hatches are phenomenal in the warmer weather and all species of fish are actively feeding.
The short fall season in late September through October can also be quite good.
What the reservoir lacks in variety and volume of insect hatches in the fall is made up for by the fact that trout are actively trying to put on weight heading into the winter season, when food is harder to come by.
Definitely come prepared for winter-like weather during October, although a fair bit of the month will be cool and pleasant during the day with cold nights.
Crane Prairie Fishing Reports
For current fishing information here, check the ODFW Weekly Recreation Report linked at the bottom of this article.
Crane Prairie Reservoir Insect Hatches
Thanks to all of the submerged trees and other structure, there is a ton of insect life in this reservoir.
At times there will be high numbers of damselflies, dragonflies, mayflies, scuds and leeches. There also is a strong population of minnow-sized stickleback fish that trout and other fish eat.
You might want to come prepared with quite an arsenal if you plan to fly fish here.
Local fly shops in the Sunriver, Bend and Sisters areas know Crane Prairie and its top fly patterns very well, as it is easily among the top destinations for their customers and local fishing guides.
Also, due to the large size of the trout and the abundance of snags, many experienced anglers will use heavier equipment here than they might in some fly waters.
A 6-weight rod with matching line is a good bet here, and even a 7-weight would not be out of order.
The tackle shop at Crane Prairie Resort also may be able to provide you with some current fishing tips for both fly and conventional fishing approaches.
The lake is home to both wild rainbows and hatchery-reared rainbows. At this writing, only the hatchery fish may be harvested as part of your trout limit.
The hatchery fish have a clipped and healed adipose fin (a fleshy fin on top side of the fish between the larger dorsal fin and the tail).
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife plants the lake with marked trout, both fingerlings and some legal-sized rainbows.
The catchable-sized hatchery trout are likely to be planted in late spring or early summer to supplement the fishery. The smaller trout grow to legal size and beyond quickly here.
Crane Prairie Fly Fishing for Trout
As mentioned, fly fishing here is beyond popular. You’ll share the water with a lot of other anglers, but fortunately there is so much reservoir that you can stake out your own spot among the feeding trout.
Fly fishers both cast to feeding fish they can spot, or they slowly troll sinking patterns in search for willing but hidden quarry.
Try fishing in the shallows during active feeding times, around first light and again at dusk. (Note that regulations allow fishing an hour before sunrise through an hour after sunset.)
At other times, fishing the river channels will be your best bet.
The channels are where the water can be 10 to 20 feet deep (twice as deep as the shallows) and a fair bit cooler.
The Deschutes, Cultus and Quinn river channels are the largest channels, and there are a few smaller creek bottoms.
Conventional Tackle Fishing at Crane Prairie
Conventional anglers also are very common here, and they do well for trout.
Still-fishing bait can catch fish here. Lots of anglers will use floats with a nightcrawler or, if available, hellgrammites or dragonfly nymphs can be irresistible for trout.
Some anglers also fish worms on the bottom or drift them through deeper areas, and prepared baits such as PowerBait will also work well at times.
Trollers do quite well, often working their way down the larger channels using lures, bait or a combination of both to draw strikes from aggressive trout.
Anglers who get to know Crane Prairie also focus their summertime fishing attention on underwater springs that feed colder water into the reservoir. You can sometimes spot these springs by seeing areas with clearer water.
Crane Prairie Brook Trout
Besides the rainbows, brook trout are quite common at Crane Prairie and reach larger sizes here than they do at many lakes around Oregon.
Of note, the Oregon state fishing record brook trout was caught in the upper Deschutes River above Crane Prairie.
Brook trout prefer cold water, and at Crane Prairie the coldest water is typically found in the Cultus River channel on the west side of the lake.
Fishing near where cooler streams or springs enter the reservoir is a good plan for specifically targeting brookies.
They also like to hide under fallen logs and similar structure.
This article should give you a great start in learning how to catch Crane Prairie’s famous fighting rainbows, but we’d also suggest honing your skills a little more with Trout Fishing: Basic Techniques and Tips.
Kokanee fishing isn’t the major attraction at Crane Prairie, but these little land-locked salmon do have their fans and they make a nice secondary option for trout anglers.
(Some anglers report that they aren’t as tasty here as in some colder, deeper lakes. See Best Kokanee Fishing in Central Oregon for ideas about where to catch them, including excellent fisheries at nearby Wickiup Reservoir, Odell Lake and Crescent Lake.)
Kokanee are often found in the river channels at Crane Prairie. They are a schooling fish and prefer colder, clearer water.
Anglers targeting kokanee often troll small spoons, spinners and hootchies through good holding areas. Anglers also report catches of kokanee on bait and sinking fly patterns.
Best Time to Catch Crane Prairie Kokanee
Kokanee fishing at Crane Prairie is best in the late spring through mid-summer. The fish are feeding and bright for eating.
Larger kokanee start changing as they approach their fall spawn. You’ll notice changes to their bodies and jaws by late summer and the quality of the meat will diminish later in the season.
By September, you’ll probably find kokanee schooled up around tributary mouths they will soon enter to spawn. By this time, the fish will be turning red and not great table fare. They can be aggressive biters though.
Note also that kokanee caught at Crane Prairie count as trout in your bag limits.
Grab some more effective kokanee fishing tips here.
Largemouth bass are well-established in Crane Prairie these days, and these bucket mouths grow to pretty good size here.
At times fishing for them can be a blast, with frequent vicious strikes and broad-shouldered fighters on the other end of your line.
Bass fishing in this land of trophy trout good enough that we feature Crane Prairie on our run-down of Central and Eastern Oregon’s Best Largemouth Bass Fishing. (Other lakes on that list include nearby Davis Lake and Wickiup Reservoir.)
How to Catch Crane Prairie Bass
Fishing for bass is best during the warmer summer months, using the typical variety of bass lures including plastic worms and grubs, swimbaits, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, topwater lures and whatever you like best for largemouths.
Fishing with a real nightcrawler also catches bass, but remember you can’t use live fish for bait in Oregon.
Also note that if you prefer to release your fish unharmed, bass and other game fish have more of a tendency to deeply swallow natural baits, which in turn leads to more fatal injuries.
Where to Catch Crane Prairie Bass
Bass will use the cover of sunken timber, fallen logs, shallow coves and other areas here, especially in the warmer areas of the lake.
They tend to move into the shallower water for the spring spawn and also at other times during lower light conditions to feed.
At other times, move into 10- or 15-foot depths to find holding bass looking to ambush small fish, crayfish or other prey.
Standard limits apply to bass you decide to keep from Crane Prairie.
This was a quick bit on how and where to catch bass. You’ll probably want to dive in a little deeper with Bass Fishing Techniques and Tips.
Other Game Fish in Crane Prairie Reservoir
At this writing, crappie fishing in Crane Prairie seems to be a minor fishery, at best, even though all of that submerged timber looks like crappie heaven.
If you’re headed there anyway, maybe bring along some crappie jigs just in case. Otherwise, prioritize trout, bass and possibly kokanee.
If you really want good crappie fishing, look to Prineville Reservoir or other spots in our run-down of Best Crappie Fishing in Central and Eastern Oregon.
There also are illegally introduced brown bullhead catfish in the reservoir, but they attract even less fishing attention here than elsewhere. The same may be true of non-native bluegill sometimes reported here.
You might also find some native whitefish in the reservoir, but these too are not a super popular quarry among the sport anglers more interested in trout and bass.
However, the reservoir did produce the Oregon record whitefish, so they can grow to nice size here. And smoking or canning whitefish are ways to make better use of this tasty but very bony trout cousin.
The fish species mentioned in this “other game fish” section of this article can generally be kept in any number or size at Crane Prairie. Check the annual regulations for details.
Crane Prairie Camping
This is a busy place, and lots of anglers stay overnight. Campers will find U.S. Forest Service camping at the large Crane Prairie Campground, and smaller Rock Creek Campground, Quinn River Campground, and Cow Meadow Campground.
Crane Prairie Resort on the upper reservoir near the large Crane Prairie Campground along East Crane Prairie Road, has an RV park and cabins for overnighters. Their services include a general store and bait and tackle, a marina with rental boats, and other amenities.
Camping is also widely available at nearby campgrounds throughout the Deschutes National Forest.
Crane Prairie Location
Crane Prairie Reservoir is located less than an hour’s drive southwest of Bend, or about two hours from Eugene and almost double that from Portland.