The Willamette Valley’s largest reservoir (at full pool anyway) is an excellent place to tap into a variety of warmwater fishing opportunities, especially for those interested in catching good numbers of crappie and pulling largemouth bass out of weeds.
Fern Ridge is only about 10 miles from downtown Eugene but it’s a much more rural feel at the lake surrounded by the communities of Veneta, Elmira and Alvadore.
At full pool in the spring, the reservoir has about 9,000 surface acres.
Much of that is shallow water because the reservoir sits in the low-elevation valley around the Long Tom River, which feeds the reservoir along with a number of other streams.
The natural stream areas form deeper channels where the fish retreat as the water warms and levels decrease during the irrigation season.
A boat is ideal here, because there is a fair bit of farmland and other private property rimming the lake, as well as islands and wetland areas that make many areas unreachable by shore.
There are good launches at Perkins Peninsula County Park at the southern end (right off Highway 126), at Richardson County Park at the northwest side, west of the dam, and Orchard Point Recreational Area at the dam’s east end. The latter two are accessible via Clear Lake Road.
That’s not to say there isn’t good bank fishing.
Find pretty good access at the south end along Highway 126 and at Perkins and Zumwalt parks, near the Long Tom River and Coyote Creek inlets.
There’s also access from Jeans Road, less than a mile north of Zumwalt Park, that can offer good roadside fishing.
At the north end, there is abundant access near the dam and from the Richardson and Orchard Point areas.
It’s also worth noting that Kirk Pond and the Long Tom River right below the dam contain the same species of warmwater fish and can at times offer very good fishing.
Fern Ridge Reservoir Crappie Fishing
Fern Ridge simply is one of the best crappie fishing spots in western Oregon.
Crappie habitat is everywhere: along weed and lily pad lines, around dead branches and trees, next to bridge pilings, around the marina and against the dam are all places where you might regularly find these fish to good size.
Work likely looking areas until you find fish. With crappie, where there’s one there’s usually more to be caught.
Crappie are often found in shallow water during the spring but also will move into nearby deep areas, especially as the water warms and drops into summer and early fall.
March and April is often good for crappie near the marina, suggested ODFW fish biologist Jeff Ziller.
From a boat, try subtle vertical jigging with a crappie jig setup around likely looking cover. You might sweeten the offering with a Berkley Crappie Nibble on the hook point.
If casting out from bank or boat, fish a crappie jig under a bobber and cast next to structures. Give the bobber some twitches so the jig looks like a terrified minnow, or retrieve very slowly, perhaps with a somewhat erratic course. Don’t move too fast.
Casting anglers also can do well with very small crankbaits, spinners and other lures that look like small fish, which are the favorite meal of crappie. (Your editor has a bunch of paint-chipped Rooster Tail spinners from bouncing the lures off cement bridge pilings while fishing under Hwy. 126.)
Sometimes slowly trolling similar lures will help you locate schools of crappie.
If gearing up for crappie, get some tips here.
Fern Ridge Reservoir Largemouth Bass Fishing
Among southern Willamette Valley bass anglers, Fern Ridge typically isn’t quite in the same category for trophy fishing as nearby Cottage Grove Reservoir and Dorena Reservoir or other top bass lakes in western Oregon, but it has a good population of these fish to fair size.
There is absolutely a ton of fish-holding structure here, including lots of shallow weeds where springtime bass will be looking for meals and protecting spawning beds.
As with crappie fishing, a boat will help but bank angling from the access points listed above can be very productive at Fern Ridge.
A variety of soft plastic lures imitating smaller fish, worms, crayfish and frogs will catch fish here, as will crankbaits, buzzbaits and other lures.
During the warmest months, for a thrill try working topwater lures in bassy looking areas. Topwater largemouth bass strikes are explosive and addictive.
Remember that bass are a slow-growing fish, so consider carefully snapping a photo before releasing them (especially the larger ones) and perhaps catch a mess of crappie or other fish when it’s time for dinner.
Also, the Oregon Health Authority has warned anglers against eating too many bass caught in Oregon, due to naturally occurring mercury that builds up in resident fish, especially in longer-lived species.
More Fern Ridge Fishing
Bluegill are very common at Fern Ridge, and can reach good size.
Bluegill are often found close to shore and along weedy areas, especially in the spring and summer.
Sunfish love insects and worms and will readily bite a worm, mealworm, cricket or other natural bait fishing under a bobber or near the bottom. Use a small hook and bait because sunfish have small mouths.
They also will often strike flies and small lures, and the latter can be particularly effective while sunfish are protecting their shallow nests.
Bullhead catfish also are easily found at Fern Ridge.
Try fishing a garden worm, nightcrawler, piece of raw fish or shrimp or prepared catfish bait on the bottom, often in relatively shallow water. Experiment with depths by casting different distances.
Catfish often forage by scent and will find their way to your offering, so let the bait sit for a little bit before trying a new area.
Catfish don’t seem to mind colder water are often the first species of fish to really start biting.
Interested in more about this type of fishing? Read: Catfish Fishing in Oregon.
Carp can grow to large size at Fern Ridge.
While not everyone likes to eat these bony, over-sized goldfish cousins (but some people do), these fish are such surprisingly good fighters that they are growing in popularity among sport fishers, even fly fishing enthusiasts.
Bait anglers will typically use a ball of bread or dough.
Bow fishing is also done here, and some anglers use the carcasses to fertilize their gardens or for crab bait.
Keeping the numbers of carp in check here is probably a good idea, because this is a species that can overrun a waterway and hurt the food chain.
In balanced populations, however, their young provide an abundant source of food for fish-loving predators like crappie and bass.