Of all the premium fishing spots on Central Oregon rivers, the Crooked River near Prineville might provide the best chance for fly anglers to land rainbow trout.

But two years ago an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife population survey estimated just 350 native redband trout per mile in the 8-mile stretch of the Crooked River below Bowman Dam. It was the lowest number ever recorded in the 17 years the department had performed the surveys, according to Tim Porter, assistant district fish biologist for the ODFW in Prineville. In 2013, that number topped 8,000.

Over the past two years, however, the trout population has recovered significantly in the Crooked River, as last month’s ODFW survey estimated about 3,500 rainbow trout per mile on the river below Bowman, according to Porter.

“It’s rebounding and we’re starting to see an increase in the size again,” Porter says.

“Most of the fish we were catching this year (during sampling) were 11 to 12 inches long. But we were seeing fish up to about 18 inches.”

The anglers are back on the banks of the Crooked River. And they are doing quite well.

“There’s been a lot of people fishing it this summer, and people are catching fish,” Porter says.

“A lot of people are catching smaller fish, it seems. Anywhere between 8 to 12 inches is the average. There’s a few 14s and 16s here and there.”

The cause of the population decline a couple of years ago, according to Porter, was a combination of a low snowpack and low flow released into the Crooked River from Prineville Reservoir during the 2015-16 winter. Flows as low as 35 cubic feet per second (cfs) killed off a high number of fish, Porter says.

The ODFW has been in discussions with the Bureau of Reclamation, which is responsible for managing flows from Prineville Reservoir, as well as with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries on how best to manage flows to restore the prized redband trout population in the Crooked River.

River flows are first set aside for irrigation needs, and whatever is left over is for the fish, Porter explains.

“After that winter of ’15-16, people came together and figured out that the fish needed a little bit more water during the winter, and the water managers have been trying to maintain that,” Porter says.

“Obviously this year is a pretty bad water year, but they’re trying to save water in the reservoir this year so they can maintain about 65 cfs through the winter.”

This improvement in flow management is mainly what has allowed the Crooked River trout population to recover, according to Porter.

Also, the lower number of fish allowed for better growth rates, and more fish survived after reproduction because they did not have to compete as much for food.

During the summer, the river below Bowman Dam typically flows at about 220 to 250 cfs. Many anglers fish below the surface with nymphs, but some prefer dry-fly fishing as well.

“They don’t have as much success, but that’s the way they want to fish, so they’re usually quite happy with the results,” Porter says of anglers who use dry flies. “They’ll pick some fish up here and there.”

Bait fishing is not allowed on the Crooked River, which is restricted to flies and lures only.

Porter says most anglers use patterns such as chironomids, blue-wing olives or prince nymphs in small sizes.

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.

The Crooked River fishery is extremely important, Porter notes, as it brings tourism dollars to Prineville and offers anglers a good chance to land beautiful wild rainbows. He says a creel survey in 2013 found anglers from 38 different states and two foreign countries fishing the Crooked.

“It’s a year-round fishery and it has high densities of fish usually,” Porter says. “With the easy access, easy wading, lots of room to cast, it’s great for beginners and people of all skill levels. It is their best chance of catching a fish year-round.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,