Suttle Lake is a pretty mountain lake and very easily reached fishing spot near Sisters and Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon.
The 250-acre lake is primarily fished for kokanee and brown trout, but there also are a modest number of wild rainbow trout that can be harvested. Protected bull trout have been reported at times (but also declared extinct in a study we found), but if caught they must be released unharmed per Oregon’s fishing regulations.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t stock Suttle Lake with hatchery trout, so the trout and kokanee (land-locked sockeye salmon) maintain their own populations here.
Kokanee fairly often can be found in large numbers at Suttle Lake, where they tend to wax in wane in numbers and size. Most years, there are pretty good numbers of kokanee but often in smaller sizes, often just 8 or 9 inches. However, given their typical over-abundance here, ODFW allows anglers to keep 25 kokanee of any size on top of the regular trout limit, and these pint-sized salmon are good fighters and excellent eating.
Trolling small spinners, spoons and hootchies is a popular way to catch kokanee. During spring and early summer, when the water is still cool, kokanee will be found fairly close to the surface and trollers won’t need much weight. Later in the hot summer, kokanee head to deeper water and either more lead or down riggers will be necessary to reach them. The lake is a maximum of about 75 deep, so it’s not as deep as some of Oregon’s best kokanee lakes.
Jigging also can be effective for anglers who can pinpoint the schools of kokanee.
For detailed information about this fishery, read a local expert’s advice in our article, Great Kokanee Fishing Tips for Central Oregon’s Suttle Lake.
Brown trout can reach fairly good sizes here, potentially into the brag-worthy double digits. However, Suttle isn’t likely to produce the 20-pounders occasionally landed in a handful of Oregon’s best trophy brown trout lakes.
Brown trout are big predators that feed largely on smaller fish, including kokanee and other smaller fish at Suttle Lake. To target browns, try trolling or casting lures that imitate meal-sized fish, including silvery kokanee. Also, browns feed most voraciously at night or in lower-light conditions. Try fishing the darker edges of legal angling hours, either starting an hour before sunrise or fishing up until an hour after sunset.
Although you will find good bank access to Suttle Lake, both kokanee and brown trout are most successfully fished from boats.
The lake also is home to native mountain whitefish, which are a less popular game species but can be fun to catch from shore with natural baits. These can make a fun kid fishing option if they are what’s biting nearby.
Biologists also are working to restore historic runs of ocean-going sockeye in the lake, where they spawned before downriver dams blocked their migrations up the Deschutes and Metolius rivers to Lake Creek and up into Suttle Lake. Fish passage facilities have been added to the hydroelectric dam complex in an effort to restore salmon to rivers above Lake Billy Chinook.
Meanwhile, at least one invasive smallmouth bass was reportedly caught there in 2019. Smallmouths potentially could put a damper in the lake’s cold water fisheries if they take hold. ODFW is asking anglers to report any bass caught in the lake to them by calling 541-388-6145.
Suttle Lake is a popular spot for all kinds of recreation and sits along the south side of Highway 20 (126) just 14 miles northwest of Sisters. It’s about 45 minutes from Bend and roughly an hour and 45 minutes from either Salem or Eugene. It’s close to other great fishing spots, including the nearby Metolius River.
Fishing is best in spring, summer and early fall. Late fall and winter can be pretty chilly at more than 3,400 feet in elevation, although anglers can a bit earlier start here than in higher mountain lakes in the vicinity.
There are several nice options to stay overnight at the lake, including Blue Bay Campground on the southeast side and Link Creek Campground on the east end. Both are accessible from Southwest Suttle Lake Loop, which follows the south shore and connects to the highway at both ends of the lake. There is a day-use area at the east end and ramps to launch your boat at all of these locations.
If you want a bit more comfort, The Suttle Lodge offers lodge and cabin rentals on the lake itself and there are lots of places to rent in the general vicinity, including in Sisters, at Black Butte Ranch, and in Camp Sherman area on the Metolius River.