Flowing among rugged canyons and twisted juniper trees, the Crooked River below Bowman Dam offers an ideal High Desert escape in November.
Just be sure to bring your fly rod.
This time of year, the whitefish are spawning, and the renowned native redband trout in the Crooked feed on those whitefish eggs on the bottom of the river.
Tim Porter, a Prineville-based fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the peak of the spawn is mid-to-late November, and fly anglers can employ egg patterns to find success in landing trout.
Locals have also figured out that this time year can offer good fishing because the flows are lower. That’s not necessarily good for the fish populations, but it can make it easier for anglers.
According to Porter, the Bureau of Reclamation, which is responsible for managing flows from Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked, is trying to keep flows at 50 cubic feet per second this winter.
“It’s like fishing in a bucket out there,” Porter said. “But right now it’s fine. There’s enough water to hopefully maintain 50 cfs through the winter. And keep our fingers crossed for a really good snowpack. This fall rain is really helping. We’re hoping for a wet winter.”
The Crooked below Bowman might just offer the best chances for anglers to land rainbow trout in Central Oregon this time of year. Porter estimates the trout population is holding steady at about 1,500 to 2,000 fish per mile in the 8-mile stretch.
That’s well up from a low in 2016 that saw those number dip to 350 trout per mile when flows were reduced to 35 cfs.
“It seemed to rebound fairly quickly after 2016, and then it remained stable,” Porter said of the trout population in the Crooked. “It seems to be about average and stable. This 50 cfs, obviously we would like more, but it’s better than it has been in the past, when they’ve gone down to 35 cfs.”
Redband trout average 10 to 12 inches long, and the whitefish are 16 to 18 inches in the Crooked.
Porter said that due to low water levels in Prineville Reservoir, more trout have managed to pass through the dam from the reservoir into the river, and anglers have reported catching redband trout more than 20 inches long.
“The water level is so low the outlet structure at the bottom of the dam is more accessible to the fish,” Porter said. “Fish at the dam are 20 to 25 inches.”
Porter added that any trout longer than 20 inches is considered a steelhead and must be released unharmed, per ODFW regulations.
“That’s our biggest concern, is protecting the steelhead,” Porter said. “They have tags in them, but sometimes the tags fall out — that’s why we have the 20-inch rule.”
Nymphing, especially with egg patterns, remains the tried and true way to land trout on the Crooked, according to Porter, although dry-fly fishing during midday this time of year can prove effective. Bait fishing is not allowed on the Crooked River, which is restricted to flies and lures only.
The Bureau of Land Management section of the Crooked River below Bowman Dam includes numerous BLM campgrounds that offer relatively easy public access to the river.
And at 50 cfs, the Crooked River is easily wadeable, and a dearth of trees can make for snag-free fly casting.
When the season changes and winter approaches, local anglers know where to go to land a few trout on the fly.