Waldo Lake is one of the largest of Oregon’s high-mountain lakes, located far up in the Willamette River drainage east of Eugene.
While pristine and beautiful, and a wondrous place to take a kayak or other motor-less boat, it only has a moderate fishery. This is thanks primarily to its crystalline waters that are too pure to support the same kind of food production found at other lakes in the region, including Odell Lake not far to the south.
Waldo Lake is located at over 5,400 feet in altitude and is the second-largest Cascade Mountain lake to Crater Lake, another pristine lake better known for non-fishing recreation. At that altitude, winter is long here and hangs on well into spring or even early summer some years.
The primarily gamefish in Waldo are brook trout and kokanee (land-locked sockeye salmon). Both are naturally reproducing and are widely dispersed and difficult to find in this 6,700-acre water. Not only is its surface vast, in some spots the lake is more than 400 feet deep.
Finding kokanee can be a huge challenge. These are schooling fish, so if you find their depth and general location, you might be able to key in on them, but good luck finding them! Trolling is probably your best bet to cover territory.
You can use an electric motor here (gas motors are prohibited to protect water quality), or you might try trolling by paddling your canoe or kayak to cover more water. A fish finder could give you a better shot at locating fish.
Brook trout also are spread all over the lake, but they tend to move into areas where streams come in, sometimes to feed all year but especially during the early fall to spawn. Around October, the mountains will be really cold but the brook trout may be aggressively feeding and defending territory near creek mouths. Try lures and natural baits.
One more advantage of coming during the fall, after freezing weather has returned to the high Cascades, is that Waldo is legendary for its swarms of mosquitoes during the warmer months but the voracious insects will be gone by October.
You might also find kokanee schooled up near creek mouths in the early fall, waiting for their spawning runs. However, these small salmon might be aggressive as they prepare to spawn, but they aren’t as tasty as their bodies change near the end of their lifespans.
There are a couple of day-use areas and camping available, especially on the east side of the lake accessed by Forest Service roads.
It’s a little more than an hour and a half driving to Waldo Lake from Eugene. Take Highway 58 nearly 60 miles to the southeast, well beyond Oakridge, and then turn off at Forest Road 5897 to reach the lake in another 25 minutes or so.