Fishing Lake Billy Chinook

April 23, 2014
Fishing Lake Billy Chinook

Outing on Deschutes arm kicks off Central Oregon trout season

By Mark Morical

LAKE BILLY CHINOOK — John Garrison has wandered the waters of Central Oregon for the last 30 years as a fishing guide. So, naturally, he has some stories to tell.

Like the time he was fishing the Deschutes arm of Lake Billy Chinook and his client reeled in … well, she reeled in a rod and reel, which apparently had been lost at the bottom of the reservoir.

Or the time he was fishing Wickiup Reservoir and a bald eagle swooped down to his boat and snatched a trout away just as his client was bringing the fish to hand.

I have experienced my own memorable moments with Garrison. In 2011, I landed a 9-pound bull trout on the Deschutes arm.

A couple of years before that, on the Metolius arm of Lake Billy Chinook, I was complaining about getting skunked after throwing cast after cast for bull trout. Finally, I hooked a fish and reeled it in.

Garrison howled in laughter when he peered down at the fish — a beautiful bass, which was fine with me, but does not exactly please the palate of a veteran trout fisherman. He likes to tell that one more than he does my big bull trout story.

Earlier this month, Bulletin photographer Ryan Brennecke and I met up with Garrison to fish again on the Deschutes arm, hoping to create more memories.

Lake Billy Chinook is always a nice warm-up to the Central Oregon trout fishing season, which begins in earnest this Saturday when numerous high Cascade lakes open to angling.(Lake Billy Chinook is open year-round, but the Metolius arm is open only March 1 to Oct. 31.)

With Brennecke and me aboard, Garrison, who owns and operates Garrison’s Guide Service in Sunriver, motored his 22-foot pontoon toward the area where the Deschutes River flows into the reservoir

The plan was to anchor the boat and fish with herring and worms. Bull trout like the herring, and rainbow trout like the worms, according to Garrison.

As angry Canada geese honked at each other near the shore and an eager osprey flew in circles overhead, Brennecke hooked two bull trout right off the bat, both in the 16- to 18-inch range. That got us excited about the day. But things slowed quickly as the sun rose high above the canyon walls and the temperature reached into the 70s.

Despite the relatively warm weather, the water temperature was a mere 51 degrees, not quite warm enough to get the fish terribly excited. Garrison moved the boat to deeper water, about 17 feet deep according to the Fish Finder, a bit farther out into the reservoir.

While the Metolius arm contains a greater population of bull trout, Garrison likes to fish the Deschutes arm because a Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Fishing Permit ($12) is not required there as it is on the Metolius arm, and the high canyon walls afford greater protection from the wind. The Deschutes arm is also a shorter boat ride, and it offers a chance at rainbow and brown trout, not just bulls.

Bull trout are federally listed as a “threatened and endangered” species, but they hold a “sensitive” status in Lake Billy Chinook. The daily catch limit is one bull trout longer than 24 inches, while all others must be released unharmed.

The biggest bull trout Garrison said he has ever caught on Lake Billy Chinook was 14 pounds. He landed it on the Metolius arm, but he said he believes anglers can catch 10- to 12-pound bull trout on the Deschutes arm.

“The numbers of bulls are higher over there (on the Metolius arm),” Garrison noted. “But you cast until your arm falls off.”

A common method of fishing for bull trout on the Metolius arm is casting lures toward the shore and then reeling the lures in quickly over and over again, which is much more physically taxing than fishing with herring on the bottom of the lake.

“If you have kids you can do this, and I have one in the boat right now,” said Garrison, no doubt referring to me.

But the good-natured ribbing did not end there, as the guide seemed to bring in bull trout after bull trout. He caught the most fish of the three of us (seven), and the biggest (21 inches).

“I like having caught the most and the biggest,” Garrison gloated.

I ended up with just two fish, a bull and a rainbow, and Brennecke finished with five fish, reeling in a nice 16-inch bull just as we were about to call it a day.

“At the start of the season it can be really good or really bad,” Garrison said of fishing lakes in Central Oregon.

We ended the day with 14 fish caught and released: 11 bull trout, two rainbow trout, and one brown trout among the three of us.

The digital temperature display in Garrison’s pickup truck read 79 degrees as we drove from the Deschutes Arm Day Use Area boat ramp around to Cove Palisades State Park. Fishing season had finally arrived — and this Saturday, even more opportunities open up on the high Cascade lakes.

“I would go to Wickiup (Reservoir) and fish the Deschutes arm,” Garrison recommended for this weekend’s high lakes trout opener in Central Oregon. “You can be sheltered, no matter the wind or weather.”

He also suggested Crane Prairie Reservoir and Cultus Lake.

Garrison, no doubt, has some stories from long days spent on those lakes as well.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

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