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Winter trout.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (ran 12/05/'03): Thursday's winter trout fishing story contained misinformation on Page F7. Lemolo Lake, which is in the upper Umpqua River Basin east of Roseburg, closed to all fishing on Oct. 31.

"Winter" and "steelhead" may go together like hand and glove in Oregon, but "winter trout" is not a bad fit, either.

A surprising amount of good trout fishing is available for anglers willing to brave the unpredictable weather during the "offseason," those six months during which most Oregon rivers and streams are closed to trout fishing.

The general trout season closed Oct. 31 and won't re-open until late April in most of the state's free-flowing waters - and until late May in others.

Nevertheless, the months of November through March offer something for every angling style - from fly-casting and lure flipping to trolling or sitting next to a campfire while watching the tip of a bait rod. Indeed, with fall chinook salmon angling almost over and winter steelhead yet to arrive in big numbers, trout may be an angler's best bet during December.

And trout for every taste - from brookies and brown trout to cutthroat and the omnipresent rainbow - are available to those willing to drive a couple of hours.

You can even fish legally for bull trout - a federally protected species in most Oregon waters - or landlocked salmon if you know where to go and how to go about it.

Here, then, is an overview of some of the best offseason opportunities for winter trout fishing in Oregon:

Running waters

Since it's easier to find a good lake or reservoir to fish in winter, let's begin our overview with rivers and streams.

If drawing power is any indication, the Crooked River below Bowman Dam, about 15 miles southeast of Prineville, is the state's premier winter stream-fishing destination. Even a midweek visitor there is likely to encounter anglers from Portland, Salem and Eugene.

"The Crooked River, this time of year, provides a very good opportunity ... fishing can be extremely good," said Ted Wise, assistant district fish biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Bend. "It carries a high number of fish."

The best fishing is on the 8-mile stretch running through Bureau of Land Management property, starting 150 feet below the dam and continuing downstream to milepost 12.

That section of river is thick with native redband trout that, this year, have been averaging about 12 inches long - with enough 14- and 16-inchers in the mix to make things interesting. It's not uncommon for experienced fly anglers to hook two to three dozen fish in an afternoon.

During the general trout season, the use of bait is allowed in the Crooked River, but starting Nov. 1 the regulation switched to flies and lures only.

The harvest of two fish per day is allowed year-round, although the ODFW encourages catch-and-release of the larger fish, to help maintain this quality fishery.

The thing that distinguishes the Crooked River from most other winter streams is that its flow doesn't fluctuate much. West-side rivers go up and down like a yo-yo in winter, but the Crooked River drains an arid chunk of Central Oregon's high desert, and Bowman Dam is used to save as much water as possible for summer irrigation.

Another classic fly stream with a steady water flow is the spring-fed Metolius, north of the community of Camp Sherman at the eastern base of the Cascades.

"It's a challenging fishery in the winter," Wise said. "But the ones who know how to fish it - not me - are saying right now is actually good fishing for rainbow." Anglers may also legally target large bull trout

All fishing in the Metolius is catch-and-release with artificial flies only. The portion of the river upstream from the Allingham Bridge is closed Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 to protect spawning redband trout.

When water conditions are right, of course, Eugene-area fly anglers can find plenty of good trout fishing without driving across the Cascades.

The McKenzie River below Forest Glen boat ramp near Blue River and the Middle Fork Willamette River are open to trout angling year-round.

The best winter fishing is probably found in the McKenzie between EWEB's Walterville Canal and the confluence with the Willamette. That section has a strong population of native trout, at least 80 percent of which are cutthroat and the remainder red-side rainbow.

Whenever the lower McKenzie is running a little too high for good fishing, district fish biologist Jeff Ziller suggests anglers try one of the two sections of the McKenzie from which water is diverted for EWEB power projects.

"Some areas are going to have better water conditions than others because of the potential that 2,500 cubic feet per second will be taken out for the power projects," Ziller said. "I'd fish downstream from those diversions."

The Middle Fork Willamette between Hills Creek Dam and Lookout Point Reservoir is also managed for wild fish, with a higher percentage of rainbow - which tend to run bigger than cutthroat - than in the McKenzie.

"The Middle Fork's pretty good," Ziller said. "There are some fish that drop through the dam and hang up in the main stem, especially in the lower reaches closer to Black Canyon. Those areas can be heated up to some extent and have some success during the winter months," he said, adding "I fish that myself."

Lakes and reservoirs

For many years, Hills Creek Reservoir southeast of Oakridge was the prime destination for winter trout anglers in eastern Lane County.

But more winter anglers gravitate to Dexter Reservoir since the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife began an aggressive trout-stocking program there - probably because it's considerably closer to Eugene-Springfield.

The reduced pressure at Hills Creek is just fine with one South Eugene angler, who in three trips to Hills Creek Reservoir last week caught two 17-inch rainbows and one 16-incher - plus several smaller trout. The bigger fish all attacked a "Rooster Tail" spinner.

(In addition to trout, Hills Creek Reservoir holds land-locked spring chinook salmon - the offspring of surplus fish that returned to the hatchery collection facility at Dexter Dam, then were trucked above the dam and released in Hills Creek and other tributaries.)

Ziller says Dexter, Hills Creek and Dorena Reservoir (east of Cottage Grove) are all "good producers in winter time," although "Dorena tends to grow fish that are a bit larger."

In fact, anglers with a little patience are apt to be rewarded with "carry-over" planters (stocked fish that were 10 inches or so when released months ago, but have grown considerably in the interim) at any of the Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs in the Willamette Basin.

The "carry-over" phenomenon is replayed in countless natural lakes throughout western Oregon, including the dozen or so Florence-area lakes stocked by the ODFW during the general trout season. Any of those is likely to produce larger trout in the winter.

Olalla Lake on the Yaquina River about seven miles east of Newport almost always has some oversized fish cruising around its 80 acres, according to John Spangler, assistant district fish biologist in the ODFW's Newport office. Excess summer and winter steelhead from the trap on the Siletz River are released in Olalla Lake, where they become part of the trout bag limit.

Lake anglers looking for something a little different may want to consider driving to Lemolo Lake in the upper Umpqua River Basin east of Roseburg, a waterway known for its brown trout.

"Lemolo Lake is probably one of our best right now," said Jim Muck, the district biologist in Roseburg. "Try to fish where one of the tributaries enters the lake. When the rains really hit, the fish move out of the tributaries into the lake, then as the water clears, they will move back toward those tributaries."

Anglers must take care, however, to fish only in the slack water, as the tributary streams themselves are closed.

Another lake with some unusual "drawing power" is Lake Billy Chinook southwest of Madras, perhaps the only place in the state where it's legal to harvest bull trout, which is federally protected outside the Metolius Basin. The limit is one bull trout per day, and the Metolius Arm of the reservoir is tribal water that is open to angling March 1 through Oct. 31. The balance of the reservoir, however, is open year-round.

"It can be doggone cold, but people do pull bull trout out of there in the winter, or rainbow," said Ted Wise, the biologist in Bend. "The Metolius bull trout fishery is typically thought of as a March fishery, but people fish it year-round, and if you know how to work it it can be good."


Bold text This stringer of rainbow trout represents a morning's catch for a pair of fishing buddies at Dexter Reservoir. This stringer of rainbow trout represents a morning's catch for a pair of fishing buddies at Dexter Reservoir.
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Offseason opportunities to catch trout abound in Oregon
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 4, 2003
Previous Article:Sheldon girls fall at Lakeridge.
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