Willow Lake can be a very good spot to catch a variety of fish, including stocked rainbow trout and resident bass and crappie.
The reservoir, with more than 300 surface acres, is located just off Fish Lake Road about 9 miles from the small city of Butte Falls or an hour’s drive east of Medford. It is listed as Willow Creek Reservoir in some references, including some trout stocking reports.
Thanks in part to a large Jackson County park, there is excellent bank access and also good boat access, with a paved ramp usable when water levels are good and a gravel launch where boats up to 14 feet can be put in when water levels are down, which is most likely to happen later in the season. Reach the park from Willow Lake Road on the west side of the reservoir, past the dam.
The reservoir also is inside the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, and a Forest Service road hugs the east bank. Snow-capped Mount McLoughlin looms in view to the southeast.
The reservoir is deepest near the dam, where fish may retreat as the water warms. Three main coves are located at the south end of the reservoir where Willow Creek and other tributaries enter. The coves can get weedy when the water temperature is warm.
Rainbow trout are a popular quarry here. The best fishing will be soon after the lake is stocked, which typically begins about March and continues through spring. Sometimes the stockings in late spring include some larger trout. Check the trout stocking link below for the annual schedule.
Trout fishing will be good throughout that season but tends to taper off by summer. Summer trout anglers might consider trying the deeper sections at the north end.
There have been times when Willow Lake also has been stocked with additional trout, including in the fall, and these also may be larger fish. These bonus plantings aren’t necessarily listed in the annual stocking plan but are usually added to the weekly recreation report linked below.
Typical trout-fishing methods will work. Bait fishing off the bottom or below a bobber (especially for freshly stocked trout in cooler weather) will usually get the job done. Boat anglers also are likely to catch fish by trolling. (More detail: Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.)
Willow Lake also contains smaller numbers of wild cutthroat trout and at times has had good populations of kokanee (landlocked sockeye salmon), but we could find no recent reports on fishing for the latter.
Willow Lake at times can provide a good warmwater fishery.
Largemouth bass fishing can be quite good. When larger bass are in shallower waters for their spring spawn, try the cove areas at the south end and also look for fish to be off points, dropoffs and other deeper structures, especially post-spawn.
Bass feed on other fish, crayfish, worms and other critters, and lures designed to imitate their prey can drawn vicious strikes. A variety of soft plastic lures, swimbaits and crankbaits will catch these fish. Spinnerbaits also will provoke attacks, especially from bass guarding nests. Bass are a slow-growing, long-lived predator species, so consider releasing these fish to maintain the fishery here and plan to take home more abundant stocked trout or panfish when looking for dinner. (Interested in more bass spots? Read Best Largemouth Bass Fishing in Western Oregon.)
Crappie, bullhead catfish and perhaps some yellow perch also can sometimes be found at Willow Lake.
Crappie are a popular game fish that travel in schools. They can be tough to find but once you catch one stick with it because others should be nearby. Crappie often move into shallow water during the spring but at other times may be suspended near deeper cover. Try a crappie jig fished below a bobber when crappie are holding relatively shallow or dropped into deeper water at other times. Thread a Berkley Crappie Nibble on the hook tip to boost your odds of catching crappie or other types of fish.
Catfish and perch are likely to be caught near the bottom with a piece of worm or other bait.
This reservoir is a good day trip destination, but overnighters will find a good-sized campground that also includes a handful of cabins and yurts at Willow Lake County Park. See the county website for camping and fee information and reservations.