Willow Lake can be a very good spot to catch a variety of fish in Southern Oregon, 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.
Willow Lake, in recent years, has held up better during drought conditions than other lakes in the region, especially hard-hit Howard Prairie and Hyatt lakes.
Historically, it had been known as Willow Creek Reservoir in some references, including some older trout stocking reports. (There is a separate Willow Creek Reservoir in Northeastern Oregon, so using Willow Lake for the one in Jackson County helps distinguish the two.)
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.
There also is 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 reservoir’s west side, 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 reservoir’s south end 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 trout 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 our trout stocking schedule below, based on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual stocking plan.
Trout fishing will be good throughout that season but tends to taper off by summer. Summer trout anglers might consider trying the deeper sections in the northern half of the reservoir, where depths closer to the dam can reach 40 to nearly 50 feet.
There have been times when Willow Lake has also been stocked with additional trout, including at times during 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.
Even if no new trout are stocked near the end of the season, trout can often hold over in Willow Lake, and those larger survivors will head into the colder months aggressive and hungry to stock up for winter.
How to Catch Trout
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.
Berkley PowerBait and nightcrawlers are among the most common trout baits, but of course, other prepared baits such as cured salmon eggs and marshmallows or natural baits also can work very well.
Bank anglers also can cast and retrieve lures, including bright spinners and spoons to rile up the naturally aggressive rainbows.
Fly anglers also can do well, as even hatchery rainbows are hard-wired to feed on insects.
Boat anglers also are likely to catch fish by trolling lures, bait, or a combination of the two. Slowly trolling a sinking fly is also money for trout.
More detail: Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.
Willow Lake also contains smaller numbers of wild cutthroat trout.
In years past, according to reports, Willow Lake also has had kokanee (landlocked sockeye salmon), but we could find no recent reports on fishing for the latter.
Bass and Panfish
Willow Lake, at times, can provide a good warm-water 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 draw 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 in the spring.
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.
Also, check out our simple guide to bass fishing techniques and extra tips.
Crappies are often the third top option for anglers heading to Willow Lake, as these panfish are scrappy and fun to catch, and they are among the best white meat fish caught in freshwater if you can find them large enough to fillet.
Crappie are among the most popular game fish across the Continental U.S.
A challenge that can result in a reward with crappie fishing is that they travel in schools. They can be tough to find, but once you catch one, stick with that spot awhile because others should be nearby.
Crappie typically move into shallow water during the spring to spawn, especially around any sort of structure. At other times, they often suspend in deeper water, especially around submerged cover, drop-offs, boulders, or other structure.
Even summer and early fall crappie will often move into shallower water during the early mornings, evenings and at night to chase small fish and other forage.
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.
Find the best crappie fishing lakes in Western Oregon and also learn how to catch more of these fish with the best techniques, lures and other tips in our crappie fishing guide.
Yellow Perch Fishing
Yellow perch are another Midwest native that have found their way into various Oregon lakes, including Willow Lake.
While yellow perch often run on the small side, if you can catch them large enough to bother filleting, you won’t be sorry. They have delicate meat along the lines of their cousins, the walleye, and I’d put them right with crappie for white-meat freshwater fish.
Yellow perch are easy to catch. A simple piece of nightcrawler or whole redworm threaded on a small bait hook and fished on the bottom will do the job.
The bigger trick, as with crappie fishing, is finding the schools. If you have a boat equipped with a fishfinder, that will help locate schools, usually staged near the bottom. Drop your bait down into those schools and see what happens.
To fish for crappie and perch at the same time, I like to tie on a small crappie jig and then put a Crappie Nibble, a small bit of worm, or a mealworm on the hook. Both species will consider that lunch and strike it.
Move around until you find perch or other desirable gamefish. They will bite quickly if they’re there. If you don’t get bites, keep moving until you do.
Bullhead catfish are also common in Willow Lake.
While bullheads aren’t the most popular gamefish in Oregon, they are still fun to catch and willing to bite, even for new anglers. Some anglers also really like to eat them. I myself find they are best eating when caught in clean and cool water.
Use a medium-sized hook baited with any type of worm or other natural bait, a piece of leftover fresh fish after cleaning your catch, prepared catfish baits, or even a piece of hotdog or bologna. These are not picky fish but baits with a decent amount of scent are top producers.
Like other catfish, bullheads feed most actively in low-light conditions.
Learn where to catch more catfish in Oregon and also take a look at the top techniques, baits, and other information that will catch more catfish.
This reservoir is a good day trip destination from Southern Oregon, but overnighters will find a good-sized campground that includes a handful of cabins and yurts at Willow Lake County Park.
See the county website for seasonally open camping, fee information and reservations.
2024 Willow Lake Trout Stocking
Stocked fish are legal-sized rainbow trout unless otherwise noted. Stocking schedules are subject to change for a variety of reasons. The ODFW Weekly Fishing Report linked under Oregon Resources below may provide updated information.