We were just one fish away from achieving the East Lake slam, so Fred Foisset pointed his 20-foot sled-style boat toward the west shore.
To complete the slam, we needed to land an elusive Atlantic salmon, which are abundant on the west side of the lake. Between the two of us, we had already caught and released several brown trout, rainbow trout and kokanee.
Soon Foisset, of the Hook Fly Shop in Sunriver, hooked into what we thought was an Atlantic, but when he brought it up to the boat, we realized it was a shiny, silver kokanee.
So we finished the day one fish short of the slam, but we managed to land about a dozen other fish.
East Lake, about 20 miles east of La Pine in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, is all about variety.
“Variety and numbers,” Foisset said of East Lake. “It’s a perfect place for family-type outings. And it’s the red-hot time. The temperature’s right, and everything’s right.”
At 6,381 feet in elevation, East Lake is typically about 10 degrees cooler than La Pine or Sunriver, which average a high of about 80 degrees in July.
I was comfortable in a sweat shirt in mid-July as the wind blew and Foisset tied on his Fred’s Callibaetis nymph to our lines. We used 3-weight rods with 9 to 12 feet of 5x fluorocarbon leader, starting in water at a depth of about 30 feet and wind-drifting toward shore to about 10 feet.
Smoke settled into the caldera from a nearby fire as we fished near the east shore close to East Lake Resort.
We slowly stripped line to give the Callibaetis movement to draw the fish.
Foisset, who also runs Cascade Guides and Outfitters, hooked into a nice 15-inch rainbow.
The northwest wind was blowing all the bug life toward us, and soon Foisset had another rainbow in the boat, and then a kokanee.
“You really don’t need to get here that early,” Foisset said. “The water temperature will come up (later in the morning), and bugs will start moving.”
Before long, I caught on and landed a nice-looking 15-inch brown trout. Foisset knew it was a brown before it even broke the surface.
“Brown trout fight down,” he said. “Rainbow come to the surface.”
East Lake regularly produces brown trout weighing more than 10 pounds, rainbows up to 18 inches in length, and kokanee up to 20 inches, according to Ted Wise, a Bend-based fisheries biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The record for the lake is a 22½-pound brown.
I fought another decent-sized brown into the boat and Foisset reeled in two more rainbows before we headed west for Atlantic salmon.
An osprey and an eagle fought for fishing position in the sky as the air cleared of smoke. The blue-green water on the west shore appeared almost tropical, and several other boats lingered near the “white slide,” a steep slope of white sand and rock on the shore.
This was where we made our bid for Atlantic salmon, which ODFW typically stocks into East Lake via eggs from Hosmer Lake, southwest of Bend. The Atlantic salmon stocked in Hosmer are hatched from eggs from Maine, according to Wise. The ODFW stocked East Lake with 9,000 Atlantic salmon this year, Wise said.
Invasive tui chub also live in the lake, and we reluctantly caught our fair share of those.
The extent of the chubs’ damage to the fishery is unclear. The ODFW provided chub controls as early as 1941 and into the 1980s on East Lake, according to Wise. But the controls were terminated due to environmental concerns.
“We don’t have a real fine handle on the overall population (of chub in East Lake),” Wise said. “We know they’re abundant.”
The ODFW has an advisory of high mercury levels in East Lake. Anglers should avoid eating brown trout of 16 inches or longer from the lake, according to the 2008 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations.
We didn’t have to worry about that, though, because we released all our fish.
After we tried for an Atlantic salmon in vain, Foissett gunned the boat back to the Hot Springs boat ramp.
We reflected on our memorable outing, but there are many more to be had this summer at East Lake.
“It’ll be good all the way through September into early October,” Foisset said. “It’s good fishing into the early fall.”