Fishing at Southern Oregon’s Fish Lake

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With a name like this, it must be good!

Fish Lake, located between Medford and Klamath Falls fairly high up in Oregon’s southern Cascade Mountains, indeed is a very good place if you hope to catch trout and just maybe an occasional land-locked Chinook salmon.

The lake is actually a reservoir of nearly 500 acres, but it started out as a smaller natural lake that was expanded early in the 20th century when a dam was built across the North Fork of Little Butte Creek, high in the Rogue River drainage.

This is a pretty spot that draws campers, picnickers, paddlers and, of course, anglers.

The most frequent catch here are rainbow trout that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks in very good numbers (close to 20,000 some years), mostly during the late spring and early summer, after winter finally releases its hold on this high-mountain lake. It’s situated at a shade over 4,600 feet in elevation, with ample snowfall in the area.

Fishing will slow down somewhat as the stocking trips fall off during the heat of mid- and late summer. This is a great place to escape the heat of lower elevations, and there will still be enough trout to be worth your while. Try fishing deeper waters in the submerged creek channel and toward the dam. This isn’t a particularly deep lake, with a maximum depth a shade over 30 feet. The average depth is 18 feet.

The stocking truck likely may return in the early fall, around September, usually bearing far fewer new fish than the spring trips, but quite likely leaving behind the agency’s larger “trophy” hatchery fish. There is less angling pressure by this time, but between the new big trout and the growing holdovers, it’s a good time of year to land nice fish. Early fall usually offers beautiful windows of dry but chilly weather in this alpine setting with colors dappling the vine maples.

The lake is open to fishing year-round. When the ice is thick enough to be safe, this can be one of the better spots to go ice fishing in Oregon, with trout in the 18-inch range fairly regularly getting pulled out through holes in the ice. However, check driving conditions before going and be very prepared for wintry temperatures when you arrive.

Rainbow trout are willing biters of bait, lures and flies. Bank anglers often use bait, while boaters can do very well trolling lures, bait, or a combination of both. See our article covering trout fishing basic techniques for some ideas.

Fish Lake also has a pretty decent population of nonnative Eastern brook trout, which reproduce naturally here and are a fairly frequent catch. Like other trout, they can aggressively bite natural baits, flies and other offerings. Brookies are counted as part of your trout limit in the lake (but there are no limits for brook trout only in the Little Butte Creek system above the forks, where all other trout must be released).

The third trout species you may find on the end of your line here are tiger trout. These are a sterile hybrid of both a brown trout and a brook trout. ODFW stocked them here (and in Diamond Lake) as an experiment as they attempt to help control invasive fish species, which at Fish Lake are primarily tui chubs and fathead minnows. Those small fish (illegally introduced by anglers using them as live bait) can wreak big damage on a fishery’s food chain. Biologists want the fish-eating tiger trout help out by culling the small fishes’ numbers while leaving the larger planted trout alone.

You might catch tiger trout on bait, lures, flies and so forth (especially those that look like small fish), but this is important: Tiger trout must be released unharmed back into the lake to continue doing their jobs. ODFW would love to hear any reports of tiger trout caught; call district staff at 541-826-8774 to let them know when you catch one.

Learn more about tiger trout from ODFW and see a picture of them here.

The other fish-eating game fish state biologists have planted here are spring Chinook salmon, which get landlocked in this water. These fish, which grow to respectable size in fresh water but not as big as their ocean-going brothers and sisters, also will strike lures and other typical trout baits and have an affinity for something that looks like a smaller fish.

Unlike the tiger trout, ODFW allows anglers to harvest the Chinook, which are counted among the trout bag. Remember that only one trout (or landlocked salmon) over 20 inches may be retained per day. Both the Chinook and rainbows have the potential of topping that size here.

There are good services here. Fish Lake Resort has pretty much everything you need in terms of campsites, cabins, a store, cafe, and boat rentals and moorage. It is open Friday to Sunday during the off season (and is a good place to get winter condition info) and full-time during the high season. Also, the U.S. Forest Service has a campground and day-use area right next to the resort at Doe Point.

Fish Lake is located right off Lake of the Woods Highway (Highway 140), just west of the summit over the Cascades and a short drive from Lake of the Woods to the east. The lake is less than an hour’s drive from either Medford and the Interstate 5 corridor or from Klamath Falls.

Resources
ODFW trout stocking schedule
ODFW weekly recreation report and regulation updates
ODFW annual fishing regulations
National Weather Service forecasts

Find more fishing spots in Jackson County