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Pacific Northwest Fishing “Staycations” by Cody Herman

** Some of the information in this article regarding specific numbers may be dated, but the insight and information is very helpful **

Changing regulations, inconsistent seasons and fluctuating fisheries have become the norm in the Pacific Northwest.

Or has it? For decades, we as anglers have focused on salmon, steelhead and sturgeon. And rightfully so! They are fantastic table fare, fight hard and make for great pictures! However, with the ever-changing landscape to our primary fisheries, many anglers and adventure seekers have begun to look for other opportunities across the region. Anglers are moving outside of their comfort zone and expanding their knowledge of fishing in the Northwest.

diamond lake scenery

Kokanee and trout fishing has been increasing in popularity rapidly over the past few years on the West Coast for good reason.

Consistent seasons, limits usually expected, fantastic weather and family friendly environments have drawn thousands of anglers away from the rivers and into our local lakes and reservoirs. With spring upon us, the favorite freshwater haunts begin to open up for angling as the snow recedes and the waters warm. The fish are once again becoming active and now is the time to start planning your weekends in the field with family and friends.

The Pacific Northwest has hundreds of destinations for us to explore in search of new experiences and fisheries. The spring and summer breathes new life into us all after a long, cold winter. Relaxing by a campfire or renting a comfy cabin to enjoy a much-needed break from the stresses of life becomes increasingly enticing. But no ordinary campground will suffice...

We are anglers.

kokanee kid fishing

Wetting a line at sunrise with the guarantee of multiple hookups is the ideal setting for us. But where do we begin in our planning process for a getaway such as this? It takes time on the water and the willingness to experience several places before you find one that suits your needs perfectly. However, to shorten the learning curve, we have tracked down five of the most prominent locations in the Northwest for ease of access and high catch rates. Although these are good places to start, take it upon yourself this season to explore the great kokanee and trout fisheries our backyard has to offer.

Detroit Lake:

Detroit Lake is located close to civilization, a mere 43 miles east of Salem, and can be done in a single day. But with multiple campgrounds, RV sites, cabins and boat moorage available, this is an ideal place to spend a few days to enjoy the scenery.

By the way…the fishing is not too bad either. In 2012, Detroit Lake was stocked with over 125,000 rainbow trout! The stocking begins in April and will last through most of the year. The heaviest trout plantings begin this month and begin to taper off in numbers come July. Combine these numbers of annually planted fish, include the holdover population from the prior year, the abundant numbers of kokanee as well as the landlocked chinook that roam the depths, and you can begin to see why Detroit Lake is a favorite amongst anglers.

Jeremy Jahn, of KokaneeKid Fishing, is a regular on Detroit Lake and has some insights for the newcomers.

“May and June are the best months to target this fishery,” says Jeremy. “The trout can be on the smaller side, but with kokanee and landlocked chinook around it keeps the angler guessing each time the rod bends with a bite!”

jeremy jahn kokanee kid fishing

The fish are absolutely most active during the spring and early summer months as the water warms. When the heart of the summer season arrives, expect to see more boat traffic from the watersports crowd. But don’t let this hamper your desire learn this fishery.

Jeremy suggests focusing on the “south side of the island located in the upper section of the reservoir.” He adds that “where the Kenny Creek arm meets with the main reservoir near the dam can be a productive spot as well for both kokanee and trout.”

For targeting the landlocked chinook, Jahn says to “focus to the southeast of the island just outside of the shallows.” Jahn suspects the chinook hang here in an attempt to ambush small trout as they move towards the deeper water.

As for techniques, fishing from a boat will give you the best opportunity for success.

Don’t have a boat? No problem! The Detroit Lake Marina offers boat rentals for every price range. The Marina also has a full spectrum of fishing tackle and bait when needed and is always a good resource for up to the minute tips and reports.

The most consistent setup for the Kokanee Kid on Detroit Lake has been a “Shasta Tackle UV Wiggle Hoochie in pink, 28 inches behind a UV blue Shasta Tackle Sling Blade dodger.” His secondary rig would be a “fluorescent red and silver #8 Spin-N-Glo placed a mere 8 inches behind a pink and purple arrow flash dodger.”

Diamond Lake:

Less than 80 miles east of Roseburg, OR, at the summit of the Cascade Mountains lies Diamond Lake. This 3,000 acre lake spans 4 miles in length, half mile wide and an average depth of 20 feet. However, in the not so distant past, Diamond Lake was considered a lost cause. The tui chub population out-competed the trout for the micro-organisms in the lake.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife took drastic steps in the mid 2000’s to once again turn Diamond Lake into a fishing destination. Here we are, only a few years removed from the implemented project by the ODFW, and Diamond Lake is back on the map! With the most lucrative retention limits (8 trout per person per day) and trout averaging in the 14-18 inch range with numerous landed in the 5- to 10-pound class, Diamond Lake is the place to go for some fantastic fishing!

diamond lake marina

“200,000 trout fingerlings are stocked each spring in correlation to the lake’s prolific insect hatches. During this time, the fingerlings will grow an inch per month,” says Rick. Because these fish are not raised to a catchable size in a hatchery, they make for excellent table fare because of the natural diets during their life cycle.

Unlike many high altitude lakes and reservoirs in the Northwest, Diamond Lake is now open year-round. The first year of ice fishing on Diamond Lake was quite successful. As the seasons progress and the ice begins to melt away, the fishing is at its peak until the doldrums of summer arrive. Fishing again picks up in August as the cooler fall weather begins.

The entire lake fishes well but Rick from Diamond Lake Resort suggests starting in the far NW corner of the lake during the spring thaw. During this time of year, trolling baits and lures seem to be most effective. As the water warms, trolling will remain productive along the steep eastern banks of the lake. For those who like to fish with bait, the flats along the western and southern shorelines will produce well.

As for techniques, Rick says to “flat-line an F-4 size Flatfish in a frog pattern, a small spinner or Luhr Jensen Needlefish” when trolling from a boat or casting from the bank. “Fishing with Berkley Powerbait in red, pink, chartreuse and rainbow colors on a sliding rig with 6-pound leader and a #14 hook” will catch most of the fish throughout the year according to the Resort. But a technique that is gaining popularity is using a worm under a bobber when fishing the weedlines during the summer months. However, if you are looking for a new challenge with a high probability for success, don’t neglect fly-fishing for Diamond Lake’s behemoth rainbow trout. The lake hosts multiple hatches throughout the year including chironomids, callibaetis, mayflies, leaches, dragon and damsel fly larvae. “Fly Fisherman usually do best with Woolly Buggers in olive, brown and black colors on an intermediate sinking tip. During the chironomid hatch, emergers are deadly.” Rick continues by saying the trout will “often target a well presented fly over lures on many occasions.” So be prepared when heading out to Diamond Lake to utilize several different techniques.

The lake offers 3 U.S. Forest Service Campgrounds with 450 sites that are allocated on a first come, first serve basis. These sites are fully equipped with flush toilets, potable water, RV dump stations, plenty of lush green grass and of course, a fish cleaning station.

Map of Diamond Lake Below:

map of diamond lake oregon

Diamond Lake also hosts a full service RV park on the south end. Diamond Lake Resort offers top of the line accommodations, guest cabins and motel rooms. With two restaurants, a pizza parlor, stores, laundry facilities, a full service tackle shop and marina with boat rentals, the Resort has all of the creature comforts of home. Diamond Lake is an ideal vacation spot for the angler to bring the family. There are fun and exciting things for each member of the family on the lake ranging from bike riding to horseback adventures, or experience the beauty of Crater Lake National Park, a mere five miles away. A quick word of caution, mosquitoes can be quite prolific during the peak summer months, so bring plenty of bug spray!

Lake Merwin:

Lake Merwin is located roughly 40 miles north of Vancouver, Washington at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It is the third reservoir in a chain that includes both Yale and Swift reservoirs upstream. Lake Merwin is a great bet for consistent numbers of early season kokanee.

During these first few months of spring, the fish will be found “from the surface down to only about 10-15 feet in depth” according the Kokanee Kid, Jeremy Jahn. “Expect limits of averaged sized kokanee on most outings by casting small jigs or by trolling” says Jahn. “Keep your gear 75-100 feet behind your boat and troll at a speed of 0.8mph to 1.2mph for the best success.” According to Jeremy, Pink hoochies 24-inches behind a dodger should be deadly in the early season. He also suggests using a “Mack’s Lure Double D dodger” due to its heavier weight and its capability to run out to the side of your boat in an effort to cover more water and spook fewer fish.
detroit lake kokanee fishingSeveral options exist for tent and RV camping on the shores of Lake Merwin. Campers Hideaway on the south shore of the lake is quite a popular spot. Speelyai Bay offers day use options with alternate overnight camping located at the Cresap Bay Campground. Lake Merwin is a beautiful fishery close to several major metropolitan areas. Do not expect to be alone on the water here, but with thousands of acres of fishable water, there is room to explore!As the water warms in the coming months, the kokanee will begin to associate with the thermocline and move deeper in the water column. Because of the size of this reservoir and the nature of these fish, a boat will give you the best access to having a successful day on the water. But don’t assume you need an expensive metal boat to have a good day. Rafts, float tubes and kayaks will put you on these shallow, early season kokanee that are eager to strike!

Wickiup Reservoir and Odell Lake:

As the snows recede in the high cascades, look to Wickiup Reservoir and Odell Lake for early season success. The waterways are separated by only a few miles, giving the angler opportunities to fish one system or the other, based upon conditions and success rates.

jeremy jahn

Wickiup Reservoir has a larger average size with 20-inch fish being common last year. Odell fish tend to be slightly smaller, but more plentiful and willing to bite. Couple that with Odell’s 25 fish limit, and a weekend of good fishing can fill a freezer quick! Casting a ½- to ¾-ounce P-Line or Nordic jig in red, pink or white will prove to be good colors that will put fish in your creel on either Wickiup or Odell. Casting at jumping fish is a fun, visually stimulating way to target kokanee that will keep young and seasoned anglers alike involved throughout the day. As the water warms and the sun becomes higher in the sky, the fish will move deeper and trolling will be the technique to focus on. Jeremy suggests using “orange colored wedding rings and R & K Clown mini hoochies behind a dodger” when trolling for kokanee at either of these lakes. Although kokanee are a blast, don’t forget that Odell offers some of Oregon’s best mackinaw trout fishing in the state! Fish near the bottom in 80 to 120 feet of water with a J-plug or Yakima Bait’s new Maglip in the 3.5 or 4.5 sizes along the north bank of the lake for the best success.

Both Odell and Wickiup offer fantastic lodging and camping options.

At Odell, Shelter Cove Marina offers quick access to the best fishing grounds on the west end of the lake and the ability to rush back to the moorage when the afternoon winds pick up. Odell Lake Lodge and resort offers nice cabins fit for the family at a reasonable cost as well. At Wickiup Reservoir, there are campgrounds located at each end. Look to North Wickiup and Round Swamp campgrounds for the best access to the fishing grounds on the reservoir.



Article Written by Cody Herman

Professional Guide | Creator of "Day One Outdoors" TV Show

All Photos Courtesy of Jeremy Jahn | Kokanee Kid Fishing