Fishing in Central Oregon does not end with the onset of cold weather.
In fact, fall can be one of the best times of the year to wet a line on area rivers or lakes. The crowds of anglers are thinner and the fish are often bigger.
In October and November, steelhead are the main attraction for many anglers on the Lower Deschutes. The large, ocean-going rainbow trout can become an obsession for many fishing enthusiasts.
“For those of us in the fall who are steelhead junkies, it’s kind of hard for us to focus on anything else,” says Dave Merrick, shop manager at Fly & Field Outfitters in Bend.
“Steelhead numbers are about what they were last year, which compared to the previous 10 years is not all that great. However, because of the low numbers, the pressure’s been down. So for the folks who are willing to put in the time, there’s still some fish to be caught, for sure.”
Steelhead return to the Deschutes River from the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River. Fisheries managers announced last month that the recreational salmon and steelhead fishing seasons would close for the mainstem Columbia.
The closure remains in effect through Oct. 31 downstream of Bonneville Dam and through Dec. 31 upstream of the dam, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
But steelhead fishing remains open in the Lower Deschutes, and the area around Warm Springs might be a good bet to land a fish this month, according to Merrick.
“Now is the time where we get fish spread out through the entire lower 100 miles (of the Deschutes),” Merrick says. “That doesn’t happen until about now. Most of the late-summer, early-fall fishing is done from Maupin north. Now through November you’ve got as good a shot in the Warm Springs area as you do in the Maupin area.”
That means a shorter drive for steelhead junkies making the trip from Bend or Redmond.
But the Lower Deschutes is just one of many prime fishing locales during the fall in Central Oregon. Here are a few more options:
The Crooked River below Bowman Dam near Prineville is one of the most reliable stretches of river for catching rainbow trout in all of Oregon. The dramatic canyon walls that line the river offer a picturesque setting as well.
According to the ODFW, while the population of redband trout declined dramatically three years ago, the population is back on track with estimates of about 2,500 trout per mile, which is consistent with the 10-year average for the Crooked.
Steady water flows made for a successful summer of fishing on the Crooked for many anglers, according to Merrick.
“It was a good summer out there,” Merrick says. “The reservoir was full, which was keeping the river pretty mossy and algae-ridden, but with a little change in tactics, folks were doing well. And overall we saw some larger fish out there. Water flows were real steady and real consistent all summer long. Hopefully we’ll get another reasonable snowpack this year and it will stay that way.”
Deschutes River upstream of Bend
The Deschutes upstream of Bend offers lots of opportunities for rainbow trout, brown trout and whitefish. The river above Benham Falls closed to fishing on Sept. 30, but the section from Benham Falls downstream to Bend remains open year-round and offers productive fall fishing and incredible scenery.
As the irrigation canals shut down in the fall, the water drops in this section of the Deschutes, making fishing somewhat easier.
Merrick recommends using basic fly patterns on the Deschutes, such as prince nymphs, hare’s ears, and pheasant tails. Nymphing below the surface of the water is typically the best option in autumn, he says, but overcast days can bring blue-wing olive hatches and make dry-fly fishing an option.
“Use patterns that imitate a lot of different things because we don’t have a prolific hatch of any one thing,” Merrick advises. “You get a real mix of things this time of year, so getting back to the basics that imitate a lot of different things can be very good.”
High Cascade lakes
Anglers still have a short window of time to fish the high lakes before they close for the season or winter weather makes them inaccessible.
Crane Prairie Reservoir, Wickiup Reservoir and Odell Lake close to fishing for the season on Oct. 31, but most other high lakes in Central Oregon are open year-round, weather permitting. Most shut down for the winter, however, once the snow and ice settle in.
“We still have a good window of opportunity to get up to places like East Lake or Crane, Lava Lake, before the roads close,” Merrick says. “Fall can be a great time up there. Crowds are a lot lighter, and fishing starts to pick back up again.”
Merrick recommends East Lake — in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument east of La Pine — as a good spot for fall fishing before the snow flies. The Deschutes County Road Department notes that the road into East Lake is tentatively set for a closure date of Nov. 14, but that can change based on forecasts and snow.
Merrick says that the kokanee spawning in the shallows of East Lake at this time of year bring large rainbow and brown trout close to shore.
“Now is the opportunity to really fish it from the shore,” he says. “For those folks who don’t have a boat, boy, now is the time. The opportunity to fish for bigger fish and in shallow water with the kokanee spawn going on, it’s a good time to take advantage of that.”
There is no shortage of autumn opportunities for anglers on Central Oregon waters.
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,