Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Crane Prairie Reservoir 2011

I just returned from my new favorite place. Surrounded by evergreen forests and old volcanoes, Central Oregon's Crane Prairie Reservoir is a stillwater fisherman's dream.

Although the fishing was rather slow during my visit, the size of the fish made up for the fishless hours.
My first stop upon arriving to Sunriver, Oregon was one of the local fly shops. I wanted to get some 3x and 4x tippet, but most of all I wanted to find out more about what I was getting into. The day before my departure, I called this fly shop to see what time they closed. The gentlemen on the line assured me that someone would be around until 6:30.  When I got to Sunriver at 5:45, I got thoroughly lost, so I called for directions. Sunriver is a confusing place to get around.  When I called a second time, the guy in the fly shop seemed rather impatient. When I arrived at 6:05, I met one of the most well-known and successful guides in the area.  Unfortunately, the $70 I spent did not seem to bring him out of his impatient mood. He seemed anxious to close the shop and annoyed with my dumb questions.

Here's what I learned.  In this guide's opinion, the most productive and consistent areas to catch fish are in the old river channels that run throughout the reservoir, fish on Crane Prairie rarely rise to dry flies, and the fishing has been very slow this year. He told me that he had only gotten 14 bites that day. On a good day, he expects 40 to 60 bites.

I left the shop with low expectations and tentative plans to fish Wickiup Reservoir or Davis Lake instead. I spent one evening at Wickiup, but never made it to Davis.  Once I caught a couple of big fish, I just couldn't leave those Cranebows alone.

Day 1: Fished hard all day and didn't even get a strike. I tried chironomids, bloodworms, leeches, damsel nymphs, and caddis pupae.  I probably tried a dozen different patterns in a dozen different places. Nada.  I fished for a couple of hours at Wickiup before dark, and all I got was a whitefish.  As I waited for my buddy, Kevin, to arrive that evening, I made plans to fish for bass in Davis, explore more of Wickiup, and perhaps hit the Lower Deschutes River on the way home.

Day 2: Kevin arrived around midnight. We stayed up until about 2 and then slept late the following morning.  We were on the water by noon and spent most of the day fishing around Rocky Point. Kevin was hooking fish immediately. He hooked two small rainbows and then finally landed the biggest rainbow of his life, a 3 1/2 pounder. This fish had missed several months of Weight Watchers meetings. It was one of the most obese fish I have ever seen. I waited until we had released it to say anything because I didn't want to hurt the poor fish's feelings.  Here's Kev's overweight fish:
Kev caught this fine fish on a Ruby Leech, a pattern by Brian Chan.

While Kev was hooking more fish than anyone I had seen in the 2 days I had been there, I just couldn't seem to connect. I was seeing my indicator go down as if I were getting strikes, but every time I set the hook, there just wasn't anything there. Finally, I hooked my first fish of the day in the Quinn River channel. 

The fish above weighed around 5lbs. but it didn't put up much of a fight.  Nevertheless, the fishing seemed to be improving, so Kev and I decided to stick around Crane Prairie the next day.  Boy, I'm glad we did.

At the end of the day, a couple of guys in another boat offered to show us the the Cultus River channel. As we followed these guys through a timber field, suddenly we high centered on an old snag that was just beneath the surface.  I've high centered my boat a couple of times on rivers, but never on a lake.  It took us about 5 or 10 minutes to finally spin and rock the boat off the snag. Thank goodness there was no damage to the boat! Nothing makes me more nervous than to be high centered in a boat. Finally, we found the Cultus channel and made plans to return there the following day.

Day 3 was much warmer and dead calm. Fishing can be tough here when the lake is completely flat. Fortunately for me, I have my new shooting line. Consequently, I was able to fire casts to the opposite side of the Cultus Channel.

Within a few minutes of our anchoring, my bobber took a dive. I set the hook like Left Kreh.  Immediately, a huge fish cleared the water by 3 feet.  According to Kev, it jumped 5 or 6 times, but I can barely remember. I do know that the fish went into my backing and fought like mad. When Kev finally netted the fish, I knew that this was a special occasion for me. It weighed in at 9 lbs. on the scale on my net, the second largest trout I have ever caught.

This fish will put me in a good mood for a while. A few photos later, we released it.

I caught this fish on a Snow Cone made with old VHS tape and a silver wire rib, size 12 with an extended hook shank.

At this point in the day, I was so excited that I could hardly stand it. I know my motor mouth almost drove Kevin crazy.  I felt like I had just drunk about a dozen cups of coffee!

Not long after that, I landed a 6 lb. rainbow. Another great fighter, this fish slipped out of my hands before we could get a picture.

By the way, each large fish you land at Crane Prairie is a minor miracle. The old river channels are all lined with standing timber.  It's quite easy for the fish to wrap your line around several trees and escape.

After catching a 9 lb. rainbow from Crane Prairie, I decided to put off fishing Wickiup and Davis for another trip. Wild horses couldn't have dragged me away.

Although we didn't catch any more big fish on day 3, I was fortunate enough to catch a couple of beautiful brookies.

Day 4: Kev fished with me for about 90 minutes on day 4 and then headed back to California. I returned to the Cultus River channel with high expectations. The water temperature was getting to be just right for the fish to move into the channels. My hopes were high when a school of about 12 brookies swam right by my boat followed by serveral larger rainbows.  I was able to catch a couple of 16 inchers, a brookie and a rainbow, but that was it. As the wind picked up, I watched the surface temperature drop 4 degrees. My theory is that the fish scattered once the wind picked up.

Nothing could kill my buzz from the previous day, however, so I returned to camp a satisfied man, enjoyed my final evening in the campground with a delicious steak, and packed up the following morning.  Now I'm plotting my return to Crane Prairie.

Although the fishing was sort of slow, I couldn't have enjoyed my trip to Crane Prairie more. I caught the fish of a lifetime, and one of my best friends was there to share the experience with me. Moreover, I returned home to a wonderful family. There's nothing like hearing, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" when you walk through the door.