This large reservoir gathers in the fish-laden waters of the Deschutes, Metolius and Crooked rivers to form one of the best and most unique fishing spots in Central Oregon.
The reservoir, with nearly 4,000 surface acres when full, is the only place in Oregon where anglers can keep a native bull trout.
It also is one of the state’s better places to catch kokanee and has a large population of easy-to-catch smallmouth bass.
More modest numbers of native redside rainbow and non-native German brown trout round out the most common gamefish found here.
Lake Billy Chinook, sometimes listed as Billy Chinook Reservoir or Round Butte Reservoir, was formed as part of a large hydroelectric system that also includes the smaller Lake Simtustus below.
Its vast storehouse of mountain-fed river water helps provide the fairly consistent water source that helps nourish the amazing Deschutes River trout, steelhead and salmon fishing below the dams.
Trout Fishing at Lake Billy Chinook
The bull trout, part of the char branch of the trout family tree, are a giant trout that have struggled significantly across most of the West, where they are almost universally protected.
However, in this reservoir the bull trout do well enough that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife allows anglers to specifically target them and even to take one home per day, as long is the fish is at least 24 inches in length.
Still, many anglers release all bull trout to help preserve this unique sport fishery, one of only two places in the West where keeping a bull trout is allowed.
Bull trout feed primarily on other fish and are large enough to swallow pan-sized kokanee and trout. Therefore, large lures that imitate smaller fish are most often used to catch them.
Most serious bull trout anglers troll crankbaits in pursuit of the trophy-sized fish.
Bull trout are caught throughout the reservoir but typically are most common in the Metolius Arm, which is cooler and fed by the Metolius River, where these bull trout go to spawn and feed.
Usually the best time to catch them in the reservoir is during the spring months after the Metolius Arm opens, while summertime bull trout fishing is often slow.
The large Metolius Arm is governed by special rules by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
One thing to know for certain before fishing this part of the lake is that you’ll need a tribal permit. See the Tribes’ website for details or to buy a permit online.
Another important detail about the Metolius Arm is that it is only legal to fish there seasonally, from March 1 through October 31, while the remainder of the reservoir is open year-round.
Before fishing, check the ODFW website linked below for definitions of where the Metolius Arm is located, where river regulations take effect at the top of the arms, and other important details.
If you do plan to fish for trout other than the bulls, the rainbows and browns are distributed throughout the reservoir but seem to be most commonly caught near the river mouths, where the incoming water is cool and delivers food.
This is the best place to specifically target them, definitely focusing on the mouth of the Deschutes River and Crooked River when the Metolius Arm is closed.
The ODFW allows anglers to keep as many brown trout, in any size, as they want.
Browns are non-native fish. They also are common in the middle reaches of the Deschutes River, from the reservoir clear up to above Wickiup Reservoir, a stretch that includes the Bend and Sunriver areas.
The rainbows are subject to the 5-trout limit (four if you’re keeping a big bull trout), but you must release any rainbow bigger than 20 inches, which are considered steelhead here.
Lake Billy Chinook Kokanee Fishing
The other top fishery at Lake Billy Chinook are the kokanee, which are a landlocked sockeye salmon.
Kokanee used to be so easy to catch here that ODFW allowed anglers to keep 25 of them.
Now that biologists are attempting to reintroduce ocean-going sockeye above the reservoirs, the limits have been reduced. At last check, the rules allowed anglers to keep five kokanee in addition to the daily trout limit.
Kokanee are most often caught by trolling small lures, such as spinners, spoons and hootchies. Lake trolls and flashers are often used above the lure to attract kokanee.
Some kokanee anglers also use jigs and occasionally bait to catch these fish, which aren’t as big as the bull trout by any stretch but are tasty as can be.
Kokanee fishing can be good anywhere in the lake, especially during the winter when this reservoir is one of the best spots to catch kokanee because higher lakes are closed or less accessible.
Kokanee fishing tends to be best in the cooler Metolius Arm during warmer weather, but you also will find them elsewhere.
We have a full-length article featuring an expert’s tips about Lake Billy Chinook kokanee fishing.
As ODFW works to reintroduce sockeye as well as other salmon and steelhead into the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius river systems above Lake Billy Chinook, anglers may no longer keep kokanee larger than 16 inches.
Bass Fishing at Lake Billy Chinook
Another non-native species, smallmouth bass, are incredibly plentiful in Lake Billy Chinook, although most are modest in size.
And while most of the cold water species are best caught by boat, the bass often hang out just off shore and can be easily reach by bank anglers, although a boat will let you fish more territory.
Smallmouth bass are spread throughout the reservoir but their numbers are often a bit thicker in the Deschutes and Crooked River arms, near The Cove Palisades State Park. This half of the reservoir tends to be warmer than the Metolius Arm, and warmer water favors the bass.
You will often catch bass near rocky shorelines, but they move a little deeper after the spring spawn.
If you have a fish finder, look for humps, boulders, shelves and other sunken structures where these ambush feeders are likely to attack what you’re offering.
Smallmouths, especially the little ones, are easily caught with worms and nightcrawlers.
Lure anglers do very well and sometimes catch the bigger fish. Soft plastics and crankbaits imitating prey such as smaller fish and crayfish are good bets. Casting spinners, spinnerbaits, and other lures will also do well.
If the fish are very active, especially at first or last light, you might find them willing to come up and strike a topwater lure, which is always a fun way to catch bass.
Some reports indicate that largemouth bass may also inhabit the lake. These will be far less numerous than the smallmouths.
The bass are an invasive species, and as such the ODFW allows anglers to keep as many as they want, in any size.
However, the agency also has noted that there are potential health concerns from eating too many bass due to naturally occurring mercury that builds up in longer-lived fish.
Camping and Boating at Lake Billy Chinook
There are plenty of places to stay at or near Lake Billy Chinook.
Campers can choose either the Deschutes or Crooked River campgrounds at The Cove Palisades State Park. These are located near where the Deschutes and Crooked rivers enter the reservoir on the southeast side. There are a small number of cabins here as well.
The Cove Palisades Resort and Marina also is located within the state park and offers lots of boat rentals, a store, restaurant and other amenities.
There also are day-use facilities and non-fishing activities such as hiking within the state park.
Besides the state’s recreational facilities, the U.S. Forest Service operates Perry South Campground on the western end of the reservoir, with access to the Metolius Arm.
Another thing to note is that Lake Billy Chinook is quite the playground for the power-boating and house-boating crowd.
You’ll find lots of noise-producing and wake-making activity here, especially during the warmer parts of the day. Fish early in the mornings to help avoid much of the hubbub.
How to get to Lake Billy Chinook
Lake Billy Chinook is located southwest of Madras, very close to the agricultural community of Culver.
It is roughly two and a half hours southeast of Portland and less than an hour north of Bend. It is easily accessible from Highway 97 or Highway 26.