If you want to catch trout on a fly in Oregon, keep Crooked River in mind.
The prime section of this high desert tributary of the Deschutes River flows near Prineville and Bend in Central Oregon, and it has some of the best trout numbers anywhere. During the good times, biologists have calculated that more than 8,000 redband trout (the local native rainbow trout) per river mile in the river’s best reach.
All that came crashing down in the winter of 2015-16, when drought conditions combined with a trickle of release from Prineville Reservoir killed off the majority of the river’s trout. Fortunately, conditions have improved vastly and the surviving trout have done their duty and are quickly repopulated the river. As of 2018, there were once again several thousand of trout per river mile, although fewer large specimens than in some previous years.
According to a report in the Bend Bulletin newspaper, most of the fish were running 8-12 inches, with some 14-16 inches. Those are fairly typical averages for this stream, known more for high numbers of fish than trophies. The numbers of trout overall as well as larger trout should trend upward a bit with continued good conditions.
The Crooked River is on our list of best fly fishing rivers in Oregon.
The Crooked River is so beloved for several very good reasons. For one, not only are there lots of trout, they are willing biters of artificial flies. (Fly fishing predominates here; regulations also allow use of artificial lures but no bait. Soft molded plastics are considered bait so aren’t allowed.)
There is ample room to cast, so the agreeable trout and easy conditions make the Crooked a great place for beginners to hone their craft. But, of course, experienced fly anglers love to catch lots of trout as well and can do so using a variety of tactics.
Additionally, the river below the reservoir (including the prime reach immediately below), is open to fishing year round. Unlike some year-round fisheries, the Crooked will produce decent fishing all year, except during the occasional deep freeze. In fact, it’s a favorite wintertime destination during breaks in the weather, when fishing here can be impressive despite what the calendar says.
And it doesn’t hurt that it’s usually sunny here, and that the stream flows through stunning basalt canyons and sagebrush-studded hills, exuding a Western movie vibe.
Besides the redbands, there are lots of mountain whitefish, common in the Deschutes River basin and easily caught on flies.
Trout here feed extensively on scud, aka freshwater shrimp, which fill this rich river with a perpetual buffet. Regional fly fishing author Harry Teel (Fly Fishing Central & Southeastern Oregon) offers a variety of Crooked River fly pattern suggestions including scuds. He concludes: “The Crooked is primarily a nymphing stream. Use a strike indicator when fishing these patterns. Dry fly activity can be good, but you have to be there when the hatch is on.”
At this writing, there is a typical bag limit on trout, with no harvest of rainbows over 20 inches. Trout that big are likely protected steelhead, and salmon and steelhead fishing here is closed. Many anglers choose to practice catch and release for the wild trout to help maintain this high-quality fishery. There is no limit on the whitefish.
The incredibly productive stretch of this river is the 7-8 miles of stream immediately below Bowman Dam, which forms Prineville Reservoir. Prineville Reservoir, by the way, has excellent warmwater fishing and chunky trout.
Highway 27 south of Prineville follows the favorite stretch of Crooked River. Basically, fishing is best between Mileposts 12 and 19, so that’s the place to start.
The stream here isn’t crystal clear like the Metolius River, due to clay in the water coming out of the reservoir, but it’s rich with trout-growing nutrients.
Anglers fish other sections of this river, but not with quite the same adoration or high success levels as the tailrace fishery below the dam.
The prime fishing area also is where you’ll find a string of streamside campgrounds. There also is plenty of camping at Prineville Reservoir State Park.
The Crooked River Gorge closer to Lake Billy Chinook (where the Crooked joins the Deschutes and Metolius rivers) has some worthwhile fishing for intrepid anglers willing to explore and work for access.
Speaking of working for it, you can find some trout fishing away from most anglers in the upper river above Prineville Reservoir. The mainstem above the reservoir runs mostly through private land and reportedly isn’t great trout habitat, but farther upstream the North and South forks grow trout to good size.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has listed the South Fork on its stocking schedule in mid-spring, so that could point to some successful outings. The South Fork is larger and has better access, running close to Paulina Highway (Highway 380).
Access to much of the upper river and its forks can be spotty, but Maddy Sheehan offers some good suggestions for getting to fishable stream in her guidebook, Fishing in Oregon.