PRINEVILLE — Traffic whizzed by, a buzz saw whined in the distance, and a train idled on the nearby tracks. Behind me were a skatepark and a tennis court, and the Crook County Courthouse loomed a block away.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this Central Oregon town of about 8,500, I cast out my line on the small stream.
Flowing through the heart of Prineville, Ochoco Creek is not the typical fly fisher’s paradise. The creek itself appears a little brown and dirty, more like a city slough than a crystal-clear trout stream.
But Ochoco Creek is home to a thriving native redband trout population, with some fish measuring up to 20 inches in length, according to Brett Hodgson, a fisheries biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Anglers come from all over the world to fish the nearby Crooked River, and most of them probably don’t bother to wet a line on Ochoco Creek.
That’s just fine with Prineville locals, who would prefer to keep the tourists away from their relatively unknown gem.
“I’ve even suggested to folks to fish it as an untapped resource,” Hodgson says. “The accessible portion right through the middle of town is a bit of a turnoff for the fly-fishing purist. You’ve got the wild and scenic Crooked River just up the road.”
Ochoco Creek extends a total of about five miles from Ochoco Dam on the west end of Ochoco Reservoir to where it flows into the Crooked in northwest Prineville.
A two-mile stretch of the creek is easily accessible to the public via a paved trail that runs along the creek through Prineville. Ochoco Creek Park is a common access point for anglers.
Hodgson says that most redband in Ochoco Creek measure in the 8- to 12-inch range, but fly fishers can land the occasional lunker.
“The anglers that know the creek and know what they’re doing, they catch redband up to 20 inches in there,” Hodgson says.
The biologist recommends using subsurface flies during the winter on Ochoco Creek, such as a Beadhead Nymph, a Prince Nymph, or a Hare’s Ear.
“The fish aren’t real selective,” Hodgson explains. “You get something down in front of them and it should be pretty effective. It’s mostly subsurface this time of year. But there are some tremendous hatches that happen during the spring and summer that are just unbelievable.”
Ochoco Creek is limited to flies and lures from Nov. 1 to Memorial Day weekend. But bait is allowed from late May to Oct. 31. That could change due to the steelhead fry that were released into the creek last May as part of the steelhead reintroduction program in the Deschutes River Basin, according to Hodgson. Bait will likely be prohibited in Ochoco Creek beginning in 2010 to protect the juvenile steelhead.
In addition, the stocking of hatchery rainbow trout in Ochoco Creek will cease because of steelhead reintroduction, Hodgson says. (ODFW has annually stocked between 1,000 and 3,000 hatchery rainbows in Ochoco Creek to provide a fishery for kids.)
But a youth angling pond in Prineville is in the works, with a projected opening date this summer.
“We are in the process of phasing out that hatchery stocking program,” Hodgson says. “There are concerns of the effect of those hatchery fish on those steelhead fry. We are discontinuing the stocking. Those trout that were stocked in Ochoco Creek now will be stocked in a youth angling pond in Prineville.”
Hodgson says that the halting of the stocking program should not affect fishing on Ochoco Creek. He points to a study early this decade that concluded that the majority of the fish in Ochoco Creek are native redbands.
The creek was last stocked this past summer. A small number of whitefish also make Ochoco Creek their home.
As the stream babbles through Prineville, the traffic and noise of downtown do not seem to bother the fish.
“It’s not a trophy redband fishery,” Hodgson says. “But it is a nice little fishery with some good opportunities to catch nice fish.”