Fishing in Central Oregon

A day on East Lake nets rainbows, browns, kokes and Atlantics

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin / @MarkMorical

Published Jul 3, 2013 at 05:00AM

EAST LAKE —

Successful anglers always come prepared, no matter what river or lake they might be fishing.

When fishing East Lake, at 6,381 feet in elevation in the Newberry Volcanic National Monument east of La Pine, it is especially crucial to come armed with all types of gear.

The lake features a variety of depths (from 12 to 200 feet) and a multitude of stocked fish species: rainbow trout, brown trout, kokanee and Atlantic salmon. Catching all four species in one day is unofficially called the “East Lake Slam.”

We had no illusions about accomplishing such a feat Thursday, the first warm, sunny day in a couple of weeks. Frank Cariglia, a guide for Garrison's Guide Service in Sunriver, and I knew it might be slow fishing as the bugs took their time emerging and the fish came out of their rain-soaked doldrums.

Cariglia motored his boat from the ramp and we headed for an area called “the hump,” a resurgent dome under the water known to produce massive bug hatches and hold sizable fish representing all four species. The area near the East Lake Campground is no secret — we were one of the first boats there by 8:30 a.m., but by 11 o'clock, I counted 21 boats surrounding us.

The plan was to fly-fish, using chironomids or callibaetis patterns below the surface. But as Cariglia rigged the rods, we set up a couple of spin rods with a worm and a marshmallow. Within 15 minutes, Cariglia had a plump 15-inch rainbow trout in the boat.

“That tells me they're under us and they're hungry,” Cariglia said. “If the bugs come out, we're gonna kill 'em.”

But the bugs did not seem to matter. The next hour and a half was a blur as we reeled in fish after fish — 10 altogether — on the worm and marshmallow. The 10th fish was a brown trout, giving us the East Lake Slam by 10 a.m. Most of the fish were rainbows and Atlantics, but we had also landed a kokanee.

Cariglia was so busy reeling and netting, he never even got the fly rods rigged before we achieved the slam.

Just after landing our 10th fish, a bald eagle swooped down onto the surface of the water and grabbed a fish in its talons. An osprey flew after the eagle, perhaps hoping for a steal.

The wildlife skirmish was some of the best action we would encounter for the remainder of the day.

By noon, things had slowed down dramatically. With no more luck on the worms, we switched to fly-fishing with callibaetis patterns on intermediate sinking line. Soon I had landed three kokanee on the fly.

We released most of the fish we caught but kept two kokanee, which are landlocked sockeye salmon that make for fine table fare.

We wind-drifted callibaetis back to the boat ramp, hoping to land some more kokanee, but we had no more luck. We finished the day with 17 fish, most of them taken in the morning on a worm and a marshmallow.

“We slammed it,” Cariglia said. “A beautiful day. How much faster can you get up on them? Two limits and a slam in an hour and a half — and then it just stopped. We figured it out quickly.”

The fish we landed were not small, either. They ranged from 14 to 18 inches long and were mostly plump, although the Atlantic salmon tended to be less so.

“We had big, fat fish all day,” Cariglia said. “Where I set up was no accident. I thought the hump was where they'd be.”

If he had not brought the bait and spinning gear, it might have been a slow day, proving it pays to come prepared to both bait fish and fly fish. Some days, fly anglers have the most luck, but this did not appear to be one of those days.

“Why limit yourself?” Cariglia asked. “We got up here, and it was too windy to fly-fish. I was getting the rods ready, but it just started happening. I couldn't even get the fly rods ready. But the fly-fishing will pick up as (the temperature) gets hotter.”

That day marked the start of the current Central Oregon heat wave, so fly-fishing has no doubt been picking up on East Lake and other Central Oregon water bodies as the bugs become more active.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's removal of the invasive tui chub in East Lake has helped the fishery there as well. In the fourth year of a five-year plan to improve fishing on East Lake, the ODFW has been trapping and removing more tui chub from the lake. The invasive species has harmed the rainbow trout fishery by competing with young trout for food sources, according to Brett Hodgson, a Bend-based fisheries biologist for the ODFW.

The ODFW has also attempted to keep the remaining population of tui chub in check by stocking in East Lake a more aggressive strain of rainbow trout (from the Black- water River in British Columbia) that eats the chub.

We caught no chub last week, but we did land every other species in the lake — because we were prepared to adapt to what the fish wanted.

The result was a fast and furious East Lake Slam.