East Lake is one of Central Oregon’s kokanee fishing hot spots, in large part because these landlocked sockeye salmon grow large here.
Kokanee can’t reproduce in East Lake because it has no inlet or outlet streams they need for spawning. (The lake is fed by springs and snowmelt.)
Instead, kokanee are regularly planted and grow to good size in its cold, deep and rich waters.
Kokanee are on the menu for East Lake’s huge brown trout, but they also are an excellent fishery in their own right and are arguably the best-eating fish here.
East Lake, along with Paulina Lake, sits in a high-mount caldera in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which itself is within the Deschutes National Forest in Central Oregon.
While Crater Lake National Park more than two hours to the southwest may get more sightseers, Newberry also is stunning and frankly is by far a better choice for fishing inside a dormant volcano. (Crater Lake has very few fish.)
East Lake is about an hour’s drive from Bend and about four hours southeast of Portland.
East Lake, in ODFW’s Cenral Zone, is open all year.
The daily limit is five kokanee and/or trout. The minimum length is 8 inches; only one may be over 20 inches. Rainbow trout must be fin-clipped to keep.
Know Before You Go
The surface of East Lake is at almost 6,400 feet, so there can be snow and freezing temperatures for much of the year – and sporadically during the fishing season. Be prepared for adverse weather.
Also, the state has issued an advisory suggesting limited consumption of fish caught at East Lake, due to naturally occurring mercury that builds up in fish flesh over time, especially in long-lived species such as brown trout.
Mercury levels tend to be lower in shorter-lived fish, such as kokanee, and recently stocked fish, such as the hatchery rainbows. Check your current copy of the Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations booklet for guidelines.
Best Time to Catch
While East Lake’s trout bite voraciously as soon as the ice comes off, typically in May, often the kokanee fishing starts out only fair in the cold early days.
They can be worth fishing at that time, as one resort employee manages to bag them right at ice-out. However, kokanee angling quickly builds, often peaking in June and holding up well through most of the summer.
Into September and October, the larger kokes are transforming for a spawn that won’t succeed, and fishing at this time is better for trout than kokanee.
Where to Catch
Early on, the kokanee can be just about anywhere in East Lake, often within 20 feet or less of the surface into June.
Into July and August, it will be more common to find kokanee down near 30 to 50 feet deep. The deep water off the rock cliff or white slide areas almost always have schooled kokanee during hot weather, so this is a good place to start.
A fish finder is extremely helpful in locating kokanee, especially after they have schooled.
How to Catch
Early in the year, with the kokanee fairly scattered, trolling is the most popular way to catch them.
Most kokanee trollers use a set of attractor blades. Luhr-Jensen’s Cowbell lake trolls are popular, especially the version with both nickel and brass finishes on each blade.
The most common setup includes a 4- to 6-foot leader and a Mack’s Wedding Ring Spinner, particularly in red or chartreuse. Other good lure choices are Worden’s Triple Teazer or Dick Nite spoons and Hildebrandt Flicker Spinners from Yakima Bait Co.
Adding a rubber snubber between the lake troll and lure will help blunt the impact of the strike, which many anglers believe results in better catches when trolling for soft-mouthed kokanee.
Kokanee anglers often add small pieces of bait to lure hooks.
At East, it’s popular to thread on a short piece of nightcrawler (about a half inch) followed by a kernel or two plain white shoepeg corn on the point. Other effective baits include Pautzke Fire Korn and Berkley Power Maggots.
Some anglers will fish with jigs from the opening, whenever they can find fish, but locating numbers of fish will be easier when they school up during summer months.
The most popular jig at East Lake these days is the Gibbs Minnow, especially in the half-ounce size.
Buzz Bombs also are commonly used, especially in the 2½-inch size (2-inch models also work just fine). Luhr-Jensens’s Nordics or Krocodiles and Acme Tackle’s Kastmasters also work for this type of fishing.
Good jig colors for East Lake include pink pearls, blues and greens.
Most people jig vertically after locating a school of kokanee beneath their boat.
Early on when fish or scattered, some anglers will cast to showing fish and jig and stop during the retrieve. Either way, kokanee most often strike when the lure is fluttering down, so make sure you give it opportunities to sink.
Jones figures about half of East Lake kokanee jig anglers tip their hooks with bait, including plain white shoepeg corn kernels.
If All Else Fails
If you can locate kokanee but can’t get them to bite, try baiting a small hook with a piece of worm and some white shoepeg corn, using just enough weight to get the offering into a school.
Other baits that work include red salmon eggs and Berkley Power Maggots.
Bait fishing also is an easy option for kids and novice anglers.
See our lake overview at East Lake Fishing.
Return to Oregon’s Best Kokanee Fishing page
David Jones is a former owner of East Lake Resort. The resort offers cabins and an RV park, boat rentals, coffee hut and a store carrying fishing and general supplies.