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 majority of those stocked trout are pan-sized keepers around 10 inches, but the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also has often dropped off a few batches of “trophy” trout that are around 16 inches and can really put a bend on a lightweight trout rod.
In addition to those early season fish, the lakes may also get a nice dose of larger “pounder” rainbows during the fall, probably in October. Those pounders are 14 inches or better and also put up a spirited fight.
Altogether, ODFW stocks these lakes with tens of thousands of trout during the year (40,000 during a recent calendar year, for example). Check the agency’s recreation report for in-season updates.
If you are a novice trout angler, take a look at Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.
Empire Lakes also are home to a relatively modest number of resident warm water fish, including largemouth bass, sunfish, yellow perch and bullhead catfish. And while the bass fishing here isn’t overall as good as it is in some of this region’s abundant coastal lakes, Empire Lakes can produce fish to about 5 pounds. Lower Empire, to the west, has been cited as the better bet for bigger bass. (You might also be interested in Best Largemouth Bass Fishing in Western Oregon.)
Starting in the late spring and going throughout summer, trout fishing gets a little tougher here after stocking ends and the water warms. However, that’s a great time to catch panfish, such as bluegill and yellow perch. These fish tend to run small but are eager biters, 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.
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 and in 2016 ODFW released a large number of tagged fish, including some that could win valuable prizes for lucky anglers as part of a research project.
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 accesses you’ll pass Southwest Oregon Community College, which borders much of the Upper/Middle Lake.
There also is a trail system around the lakes, so there is no shortage of good bank fishing here. Additionally, 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, be aware that gasoline motors are not permitted here, but a relatively portable electric- or human-powered craft is perfect.