When it comes to trout fishing, Oregon is not a state known for broad, expansive rivers or trophy trout fisheries.
In fact, Oregon is generally known for just the opposite: smaller streams and a wide variety of fish sizes and species.
The Williamson River is an exception to this rule.
A river more reminiscent of Montana’s trophy rivers like the Clark Fork and the Bitterroot, the Williamson offers anglers trophy trout fishing in a highly accessible region of Southeastern Oregon.
Upper Klamath Lake is the real secret to the Williamson’s trophy trout fishery: Klamath Lake is very shallow, and as it warms in the summer months, rainbow trout exceeding five to ten pounds migrate from the lake into the lower reaches in the Williamson.
In the process, these native rainbow trout known as redband trout provide some of the most productive trophy trout fishing on the West Coast.
If you’re in search of some of the biggest, most aggressive trout in Oregon, the Williamson River should be the next spot you check out.
The Williamson has earned a prominent spot in our run-down of the Best Fly Fishing Rivers in Oregon.
When to Fish
Unlike many of Oregon’s productive year-round rivers, most of the Williamson is only open between late May and late October (an upper section opens in late April).
The specific season dates vary year-to-year, so always be sure to check the regulations before you head out.
Even when the river is open, there are still long stretches of fairly unproductive fishing. Though there are large resident trout on the lower river, the fishery kicks into full gear once groups of large trout begin to migrate into the river from Klamath Lake.
Generally, the first groups of trout migrate from Klamath Lake beginning in mid-June, and the fishery is stellar throughout most of the summer.
River levels and snow runoff are also a concern, and high flows can put a damper on the fishing in early summer.
By July, though, fishing is usually gangbusters on the Williamson, with plenty of large trout to be had.
The upper reaches of the river aren’t dependent on the trout migration from Klamath Lake, and instead sustain healthy resident populations of rainbow and brown trout.
Fishing in upper reaches is off-and-on from the early season through October, and it’s always a good bet to get a local report before you head out.
Please note that current regulations require anglers to release all rainbow trout and use single-point hooks.
There are options to keep some of the non-native trout you might catch, although the redband rainbows are the primary attraction in the Williamson. We always recommend you check current regulations before planning to keep anything.
The Williamson follows regional rules that prohibit the use of bait in streams (unless otherwise allowed as an exception). Remember that in Oregon, soft plastic lures like rubber worms and such are considered bait.
Trout are the main, and only, quarry on the Williamson River.
The river is especially popular with fly fishermen, and although conventional fishing is allowed, it is rare and generally less effective than fly fishing on this river.
June kicks off prolific hatches on the lower river, and fly fishermen find success on a wide variety of dry fly patterns.
However, the most productive and consistent technique throughout the season is to fish streamers and leech patterns. These patterns are deadly with large trout.
Some fly fishermen choose to dead-drift their leech patterns while other strip or swing them – no matter how you choose to fish yours, you can be sure to attract some attention from the trophy fish in the river.
The most popular hatch on the Williamson occurs from mid-June to mid-July, depending on water flows and seasonal temperatures.
The hatch is called the Hex hatch; an incredibly rare hatch in the Pacific Northwest which consists of large mayflies that hatch primarily from sunset to just after dark.
Hex – or Hexagenia – hatches are more common in the Midwest, and the Hex hatch on the Williamson is the only major Hex hatch in the state.
Fishing this hatch on the Williamson is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch monstrous trout, in the near-dark, on dry flies. It’s truly a magical experience, and the Hex hatch is without a doubt the most popular hatch to fish on the Williamson.
Nighttime fishing for trout is not allowed here, same as in most Oregon waters, but there’s no need to worry about that during the Hex hatch. The prime hatch window occurs right around sunset – you then have an hour to legally fish before it’s time to head home.
If you’re heading to the Wiliamson and you don’t fly fish, there’s no need to worry. Spinners work very well here and serve a similar function to the streamers and leeches that are popular with fly fishermen.
These types of lures are best fished on the lower stretches of the river, where trophy trout are migrating up from Klamath Lake.
Trout Fishing on Spring Creek
Spring Creek is a small stream that enters the Williamson River at Collier Memorial State Park, just off of Highway 97.
Spring Creek and the Sprague River are the two most notable tributaries of the Williamson.
Spring Creek is a small but productive fishery, and can be worth a shot for anglers who are heading to Collier Memorial State Park for access to the Williamson.
The creek is best fished on its lower reaches near where it enters the Williamson, and it holds large resident brown trout.
Redband trout also make their way into Spring Creek during the late summer and fall to spawn, and fishing for these trout can be excellent until the creek closes in late October.
Location and Access
The Williamson River is located along Highway 97 near the towns of Chiloquin and Klamath Falls, making it a central location for anglers from all across the state.
It’s less than two hours from Bend and Klamath Falls, a similar distance from Eugene, and just about four hours from Portland.
Unfortunately for bank anglers, access is very limited on the Williamson.
Much of the river runs through private property (most of the pristine upper river is located on Yamsi Ranch), and the lower stretches of the river, even when accessible, are difficult to fish from the shore.
If you are bank fishing, the best spot to access the Williamson River is on the upper river, near the confluence of Spring Creek and the mainstem Williamson. Even there, access is fairly restricted and you won’t have expanses of water to fish.
The lack of bank access means that even though the Williamson offers arguably the best fishing for trophy trout in Oregon, it is lightly fished.
Fishermen with boats or rafts will find the Williamson much more accessible.
There are multiple public access points to put in on the river, and some of the most popular include: Kimball State Park, Chiloquin, and Wood River.
There are plenty of other areas to check out as well – local fly shops will be able to fill you in with all the details.
More information: Trout Fishing: How-To Techniques and Tips
Fishing Opportunities Near the Williamson River
The Klamath Basin offers a number of spectacular fishing opportunities. If you’re in the area and you want to explore some other rivers or lakes, you will have no shortage of opportunities.
To the south, Klamath Lake and Agency Lake are both highly productive trout fisheries.
The Sprague and Sycan rivers are also both nearby and offer much more access for bank fishermen. While they don’t have as many trophy trout as the Williamson, the Sycan in particular is known to produce some large fish.
The nearby Wood River, like Spring Creek, provides excellent fishing for brown and rainbow trout, and it’s certainly worth a shot if you’re in the area.
The Williamson River, and the rivers and lakes around it, all offer spectacular angling and offer some of the most unique fishing opportunities in Oregon.
As a bonus, they’re also not in the middle of nowhere – if you take a vacation to Bend, Crater Lake, or Klamath Falls areas this summer, don’t hesitate to give the Williamson River a chance!
Carter Reschke is a freelance writer based in Oregon. Passionate about the outdoors, Carter is a fly fishing aficionado and spends his days on the river when he’s not writing.