Empire Lakes in the city of Coos Bay are some of the easiest places on Southwest Oregon’s coast to catch a mess of fish for dinner.
That’s because Lower and Upper Empire Lakes are heavily planted with hatchery rainbow trout from late winter to late spring, as long as water conditions are favorable. The lakes also are home year-round to other fish species.
In recent years, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been stocking these two lakes with full loads of “trophy” trout that are around 16 inches and can really put a bend on a lightweight trout rod.
When to Catch Trout
In our recent checks, the first trout are often stocked in both Empire Lakes in late March, timed around Oregon’s spring break. Other plantings follow in both lakes into April, and the cooler upper lake may get more in May.
In addition to those early-season fish, the upper lake may also get another nice dose of trophy rainbows during the fall, probably in October.
Altogether, ODFW stocks these lakes with over 15,000 big trout.
Your odds of catching trout are far better when you hit these lakes within the days or at least a week or two after the most recent stocking.
Trout are aggressive biters and they get caught out of smaller bodies of water quickly.
We suggest you check our schedule below, as it’s a simplified version of the ODFW’s annual stocking plan. We also recommend you read the agency’s recreation report for in-season updates.
How to Catch Trout
To be honest, fishing with bait such as Berkley PowerBait or nightcrawlers will account for a large number of catches here, as is the case wherever hatchery trout are stocked.
Other baits fished near the bottom or beneath a bobber also can be similarly effective.
More active anglers might want to try casting and retrieving lures, such as spinners and spoons. Some of my favorite casting lures are Rooster Tail and Panther Martin spinners and Kastmasters and Thomas Buoyant spoons.
Fly fishing is also very effective, even for hatchery-raised fish that have few opportunities to eat insects. Rainbow trout are highly adapted to eating bugs, and they don’t completely lose this preference even when eating commercial fish pellets.
If you are a novice trout angler, take a look at Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.
Starting in the late spring and going throughout summer, trout fishing gets a little tougher here after stocking ends and the water warms, but fortunately that’s the best time to catch warm-water fish.
Bass and Panfish Fishing
Empire Lakes also are home to a relatively modest number of resident largemouth bass, sunfish, yellow perch and bullhead catfish.
And while the bass fishing here isn’t as good as in some of this region’s abundant coastal lakes, Empire Lakes can produce fish to about 5 pounds.
Lower Empire, to the west, tends to get just a little warmer and has been cited as the better bet between the two for bigger bass.
You might also be interested in Best Largemouth Bass Fishing in Western Oregon.
Bluegill and Perch Fishing
From spring into summer (and even early fall) is a great time to catch panfish, such as bluegill and yellow perch. These fish tend to run small but are eager biters, tasty if you can find some larger specimens and a reliable fishery for kids.
Use a bait hook or small crappie jig tipped with a bit of nightcrawler, garden worm, mealworm, or other natural bait. While these fish can be caught on the bottom, try fishing under a small bobber for the most visual excitement and to reduce snagging.
Small lures and flies also can be fun and effective for catching panfish.
Access and Events
ODFW pays a good amount of attention to these lakes, in part because they are close to the region’s population center of Coos Bay and North Bend and also because public access is very good.
For example, the lakes are regularly hosts of the agency’s frequent family fishing events.
There also is a trail system around the lakes, so there is no shortage of good bank fishing here. Small boats like kayaks and canoes can easily be placed into the lakes to reach even more fish.
Boat anglers can add trolling with lures to their arsenal, and casting flies also is much easier out from under the trees. However, gasoline motors are not permitted here, but a relatively portable electric- or human-powered craft is perfect.
Where Are Empire Lakes?
The lakes are located within a forested John Topits City Park, which gives this spot a somewhat wilder experience than you might expect by its location.
The easiest way to get there is to take Newmark Street (turns to Newmark Avenue) westbound, about two miles west of Highway 101.
Use Hull Avenue to gain access to parking and facilities on the Upper/Middle Lake or go another quarter mile on Newmark and take Ackerman Avenue to reach the primary facilities on Lower Empire Lake.
A few blocks before reaching those park access areas, you’ll pass Southwest Oregon Community College, which borders much of the Upper/Middle Lake.
2024 Empire Lakes Trout Stocking
|Apr 29-May 3
Stocked fish are legal-sized rainbow trout unless otherwise noted. Stocking schedules are subject to change for a variety of reasons. The ODFW Weekly Fishing Report linked under Oregon Resources below may provide updated information.