Fishing at Oregon’s Detroit Lake

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Detroit Lake is one of the most consistent places in Oregon to catch rainbow trout, thanks in very large measure to the literal truckloads of hatchery fish the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife dumps into this large reservoir an hour east of Salem.

The reservoir, straddling the line between Marion and Linn counties, is most easily reached from Highway 22 and is located in the Cascade Mountains near the midpoint between Salem and Sisters (near Bend). The highway follows the north shoreline, the most developed side of the lake.

Detroit is the last stop for tens of thousands of nice-sized trout every year, making it among the most heavily stocked waters in the state. (Thanks to its reliable catches, the reservoir is on our list of top rainbow trout fishing lakes in Oregon.)

And for those willing to learn its ways, Detroit Lake also can offer fair to good fishing for nice-sized kokanee (a freshwater sockeye salmon).

Detroit Lake, a flood-control, power-generation and water-supply reservoir on the North Santiam River, is close enough for a day trip for the majority of Oregonians and also offers several overnight options, making it one of the most-visited lakes in the entire state.

Among the destinations is a huge campground (nearly 300 spots) at the state park, as well as smaller campgrounds and day-use areas, and even a boat-in campground on the upper end of Piety Island, which rises high from the middle of the lake.

The Detroit Lake community hosts a popular fishing derby around the middle of May each year, when the fishing is usually exceptionally good.

To say the least, Detroit is popular with anglers and non-anglers alike. If you prefer solitude, this might not be your favorite place on a hot July weekend. There tends to be a good bit of horsepower on the water when summer is in full swing.

There is plenty of room for boaters, and two marinas with boat rentals near the town of Detroit, and options for bank fishing as well.

Here’s a look at Detroit Lake’s fishing opportunities.

Detroit Lake Rainbow Trout Fishing

Rainbows are the bread and butter for angling at Detroit Lake, by some measures accounting for most of the effort and probably more than 80 percent of the catch.

When to Fish for Trout at Detroit Lake

This is a year-round fishery, but picking up a limit tends to be easiest in the spring, when the reservoir is near its seasonal high water mark – and the stocking is intense.

For much of April and May, Detroit is stocked with about 10,000 trout more weeks than not. The stocking continues into the first weeks of July, but at a reduced rate.

At our most recent check, the majority of trout on the stocking schedule were ODFW’s chunky “trophy” trout rather than the smaller legals often planted, so come prepared for battle.

ODFW also often will stock another couple of batches of rainbow trout up here in the early fall, likely in September and/or October, and fishing at Detroit Lake that time of year can be quite good and the weather pleasant.

Do expect the water level to be down after a long summer of withdrawals and heading into the flood-control season, and in truly poor water years like 2015 there can be limits to boat access.

Where to Catch Trout at Detroit Lake

detroit lake fishing
Photo by Eric Apalategui

Detroit is beloved by boaters, who often troll lures or bait and lure combinations, often behind flashers or dodgers to attract fish.

Trolling is common along both sides of Piety Island near the reservoir’s middle and along the drop-offs on both sides between the island and the boating deadline near the dam.

Trout will tend to be relatively shallow during cool months in spring and fall but will run deeper during the hot months.

A fish finder will come in handy. More dispersed fish in open water at moderate depths often will be trout, while schools of fish marked in deeper water may be kokanee.

Another place to focus your trout fishing is in the river arms, particularly in the North Santiam Arm at the southeast end of the lake.

The incoming streams bring cold water from high in the Cascade Mountains and this also is frankly where many of the reservoir’s trout are planted during the hotter months.

The North Santiam Arm is good for boaters but also offers one of the better opportunities for bank fishing during the warm season. Bait fishing is common in this area.

Bank Fishing at Detroit Lake

Bait-fishing is also the best approach for bank anglers fishing off the dam, where deep water is accessible and decent catches can be had even during the heat of summer.

You might occasionally catch native cutthroat trout in the river and creek arms or elsewhere in the reservoir, as they sometimes drop down from the streams.

Some reports have mentioned non-native brook trout being caught on occasion, as they also are present in some of the higher tributary streams.

Quite a few Detroit Lake anglers are new to the sport. If that’s you, or you need some brushing up, start with our article Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.

Detroit Lake Kokanee

There are land-locked sockeye (better known as kokanee) stocked as fingerlings in Detroit Lake, which provide additional fishing options.

Kokanee are counted as part of the bag limit for trout when less than 24 inches.

The kokanee offer the reservoir’s second-best fishing opportunity.

And while these silvery pan-sized salmon aren’t as numerous at Detroit Lake as they are at Green Peter Reservoir on the South Santiam River, those in the know do quiet well on “kokes” at Detroit, often catching larger fish here.

Kokanee are most often associated with deep, cold water, although in cooler months they can be found near the surface.

How to Catch Detroit Lake Kokanee

Kokanee are mostly caught by boaters, who most often troll for them.

During the summer, use heavy weight or (better yet) down riggers to reach these fish, which often are 80 to 100 feet below the surface during the middle of summer.

Most anglers use a set of flashers or a dodger to attract fish to their offering. Small spinners, spoons and hootchies are typical trolling lures, and anglers often tip the hook with a kernel of shoe-peg corn or another bait.

Jigging for kokanee also can be productive if you’ve pinpointed a school.

Try trolling in deeper water off either side of Piety Island or troll out from shorelines heading down toward the dam.

A fish finder will be very handy when chasing kokanee. Watch the screen for schools of fish to target the most productive areas and depths.

For more on this, start with our Best Kokanee Fishing in Oregon page and check out the detailed techniques used at Green Peter Reservoir, Odell Lake and some of the other best-known waters for this type of fishing.

Detroit Lake Chinook Salmon

Chinook salmon also are present in Detroit Lake, but the ODFW no longer allows anglers to target this species as efforts are underway to reintroduce migratory Chinook salmon in the North Santiam River system above the reservoir.

Know your salmon and release Chinook if you catch them incidentally while fishing for trout or kokanee, as they will likely strike the same types of lures and bait as their cold water cousins.

Detroit Lake Bass and Catfish

Bullhead catfish are very numerous at Detroit Lake, especially near shore in warmer water, including off from campground and day-use areas.

Most anglers consider bullheads a nuisance because they tend to over-populate a water and reduce productivity for more desired fish like Detroit’s trout and salmon by eating up much of the forage, but on the bright side they are easy and fun to catch for new anglers, and some people enjoy eating catfish.

And while many of these bullheads aren’t big enough to make more than fish nuggets, you can keep as many as you want and trout anglers might thank you for it.

To catch them, simply fish on the bottom with a worm, piece of nightcrawler, cut fish or shrimp or other bait. If you don’t catch fish pretty quickly, try another spot or even closer to shore.

Interested in catfish? See Best Catfish Fishing in Oregon.

There also are some reports that largemouth bass and sunfish are occasionally caught at Detroit Lake.

Find more fishing spots in Marion County

Find more fishing spots in Linn County


Oregon Resources

ODFW trout stocking schedule
ODFW weekly recreation report and regulation updates
ODFW annual fishing regulations
National Weather Service forecasts