Emigrant Lake near Ashland offers a wealth of warmwater fishing opportunity and some good seasonal trout fishing.
This is a good-sized water also known as Emigrant Reservoir, covering nearly 900 acres when close to full pool in the spring and early summer, when this water really shines.
Before we get too far into the fishing, please note that the state has issued a health advisory suggesting people limit the amount of fish they eat from Emigrant, due to high levels of mercury in the reservoir’s food chain. The trout are considered safe because they are stocked from elsewhere and haven’t lived in the reservoir long enough to accumulate toxic amounts of the mercury in their flesh. The bass and panfish have lived in the reservoir their entire lives and tend to have more mercury, especially longer-lived specimens like a big bass or catfish.
Check out the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual regulations booklet or its website for recommended fish consumption guidelines at this Southwest Oregon location.
Some of the most enthusiastic anglers who ply the waters at Emigrant are after its hard-fighting bass, including the more numerous smallmouths and potentially lunker-sized largemouths.
Both species of bass are popular targets during the springtime, when they can often be found in shallower areas where they spawn along the shoreline.
As the water warms into the summer months, these fish will more often be found in somewhat deeper water. Smallmouth often like rockier structures, so look for them near the rocks along the dam and also staged around drop-offs throughout the reservoir.
If you’re looking for largemouths, poke around willows and aquatic plants in shallow water often found in the reservoir’s two big arms, where Emigrant and Hill creeks feed the reservoir. These areas are good places to target in the spring high water but will go dry later in the year.
Largemouth often continue to move into shallow water during low-light times to hunt crayfish and small fish, so try those at first light and dusk. However, after spawning is complete the bass tend to move into deeper water during daylight periods, so move off shore a bit in areas near those shallow-water feeding spots.
Both species of bass respond well to lures that resemble their food sources or those that spur aggression. Soft plastics, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and other lures will work on these fish. Topwater lures can sometimes bring thunderous strikes on a summer evening, especially from largemouth bass.
Crappie have long been a popular sport fish at Emigrant. Once a crappie hot spot, the arrival of yellow perch here has impacted the populations of these fish. Still, it’s good enough here that it’s an honorable mention on our run-down of Best Crappie Fishing in Western Oregon.
These schooling fish are easiest to find in the spring, when like bass they also tend to move into shallow water. Try focusing on good cover, including shoreline willows and anywhere you find sunken branches or other structure.
Crappie are most often caught on jigs. When they are really shallow, you can work a jig two or three feet below a bobber. However, crappie are often 10 down in the early season and might be 20 to 30 feet deep by summer and fall. Once the crappie aren’t in shoreline cover such as willows and move into deeper water, look for them off ledges and around rock piles and humps. A fish finder will be helpful. One you find a school, try to stick with it to keep catching fish.
To reach deeper crappie, fish the jig without a float or at least use a slip-style float that allows the jig to sink deeper.
Other warmwater fish in this reservoir include bluegill, yellow perch and bullhead catfish. All of these species will readily bite on bait including worms and nightcrawlers.
Bluegill are often found in shallow water, especially near weed edges and other near-shore hiding places, including docks and other shady spots. They are fun to catch using bait under a bobber, but be sure not to always cast too far because they often are practically under your feet.
Perch and bullheads are less worried about structure and can be found in open areas. Both may be found in deeper water during the light of day, but catfish in particular often move into shallower water at night to feed.
Like crappie, yellow perch are a schooling fish, so if you find one of decent size, keep fishing that area and you stand a good chance of catching more of these tasty fish.
One news report indicated that someone also illegally planted blue catfish in the lake.
Besides all of those warmwater fish, which are non-native species that naturally reproduce in the reservoir, ODFW boosts your odds of catching fish here with seasonal stocking of hatchery-raised rainbow trout.
As of the last stocking schedule, the lake is likely to receive a moderate number of these trout during the spring. For example, a recent year’s plan called for 1,000 of the trout to be planted per month in March, April and May.
Trout respond well to bait such as nightcrawlers and PowerBait fished off the bottom or under a bobber, the most popular approach for bank anglers.
Boat anglers going after trout often use trolling techniques, such as pulling bait or lures (or very often a lure with bait on the hook) behind an attractor such as a dodger or set of flashers.
For more information about basic trout-fishing techniques, read this article.
Emigrant Lake has county recreational facilities and good amenities, including several campgrounds, two developed boat ramps and more. There’s an earthen boat ramp at Songer Wayside on the Emigrant Creek arm.
Access overall is good. A boat is really handy here to reach many of the best fishing spots.
Bank anglers will find places to get to the water at parks and other spots. Generally speaking, look for some bank access on the western side of the reservoir and in the Hill Creek and upper Emigrant creek arms. There also is accessible angling opportunity at the lake.
After months of irrigation draw-downs, Emigrant can shrink substantially, reducing angling opportunities. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the reservoir to be too low to launch trailered boats during the slow seasons, particularly in the late fall and early winter before it begins to refill.
Emigrant Lake is only about five miles outside of Ashland. Take Green Springs Highway (66) to the southeast to reach it in under 15 minutes.