Prineville Reservoir
Central Zone

Warmwater fishing in central Oregon

The central area follows the Deschutes River Basin along the eastern slope of the Cascades, and includes the middle reaches of the Columbia River from Bonneville upstream to the mouth of the John Day River. The warm and dry summer months help to create productive warmwater fisheries in the area's larger reservoirs including Crane Prairie Reservoir, a consistent producer of sizeable largemouth bass, and Prineville Reservoir which is renowned for its crappie. In the Columbia River, outstanding fishing for bass and walleye can be found in Bonneville Pool and The Dalles Pool.

Anglers willing to search out the many smaller lakes and ponds will be rewarded with opportunities to catch a variety of fish including: Largemouth Bass | Smallmouth Bass Bullheads Black Crappie | White Crappie | Bluegill | Pumpkinseed | Yellow Perch | Redear Sunfish | Green Sunfish | Warmouth | Channel Catfish | Walleye


Featured waterbody: Prineville Reservoir

Prineville Reservoir is located at the base of the Ochoco Mountains, about 15 miles south of Prineville on the Crooked River. When full, it has a surface area of over 3,000 acres, but the water stored behind Bowman Dam is used for flood control and provides water for municipal use and irrigation so water levels can vary. There is excellent access for bank fishing on the west end of the reservoir at the dam, on the south side of the reservoir at the end of the Salt Creek Road, and on the north side of the reservoir both along the paved road to Prineville Reservoir State Park and campground but also from the unimproved road along the upper reservoir accessed from the Post-Paulina Highway. Boat anglers will find good fishing in the many small coves and inlets along the shoreline. Ramps are available near the dam at Powderhouse Cove, and along the north side of the reservoir from the County Ramp up to Jasper Point. An earthen ramp is located on the south side at Roberts Bay.

Prineville offers outstanding fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, brown bullhead catfish, and crappie. Although not as numerous as the smallmouth, a typical Prineville largemouth can weigh more than 2 pounds. Special regulations have been used to improve the bass fishery in Prineville so check the Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations.

When to fish

Warmwater fishing begins to improve in May. Crappie fishing is best in the spring, but they can be caught throughout summer, fall and even into winter up until ice begins to form in the coves. Bass fishing is also best in spring, but slows by late June after the bass have spawned. However, it picks up again in mid-summer and continues into fall. Catfish can be caught almost year-round. During spring and summer, fishing will be most productive early in the morning and later in the day. In the fall, afternoon is the most productive time to fish.

Where to fish for bass

Smallmouth bass are common in the lower half of the reservoir below Jasper Point and can be found near any rocky structure. The Bear Creek mouth and other stream mouths are also good locations. Fish about 10-25 feet from shore in 5-25 feet of water. Largemouth bass can be found in the upper reservoir in or near cover provided by floating logs and submerged trees and brush. Good locations include the shoreline willows along the north side access road in the 5 mph zone, and at the back of coves such as Sanford and Deer Creeks. Largemouth will typically be found in less than 10 feet of water.

Where to fish for crappie

Crappie fishing is good from bank or boat. Crappie are abundant in shoreline areas near rocky outcrops, floating logs, and submerged trees. Fish within 20 feet of the shore in 5-10 feet of water. In rocky areas, crappie will be found where the rock angles into the water rather than near straight drop-offs. They are also abundant in areas where ODFW has placed juniper structures provide cover and improve habitat. These areas include the mouth of Bear Creek and along the south shore above Sanford Creek.

Where to fish for catfish

Bullhead catfish can be found throughout the reservoir with a sandy or silty bottom that slopes gently down from the shoreline. Check out the shoreline of the upper reservoir and in the back of the major coves or bays. 

Technique for bass

Spinning gear rigged with 6- to 10-pound test line is a good set-up for most bass fishing. A favorite lure among Prineville bass anglers is a soft plastic worm fished about 12 inches off the bottom. Popular worm colors include pumpkin, cinnamon, and watermelon with black flakes. You can also use scent on the worm for added attraction. Bass may strike a worm from the moment it drops into the water until it’s reeled in -- so be ready! If you prefer to cast and retrieve, spinners, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, soft plastics, or other lures that imitate crayfish, small trout, perch or crappie also work well.

Technique for crappie

A variety of techniques can be effective when fishing for crappie in Prineville Reservoir. Lightweight spinning gear rigged with 4- to 6-pound test line is a good and versatile set-up. To still fish, tie a jig about 4-5 feet below the bobber. Cast out, let the jig settle, and then occasionally twitch the line to briefly move the jig up and down. A bobber and jig can also be fished using a cast-and-retrieve method. With the same set-up, cast out about 20 feet and let the jig settle. When it has finished dropping, slowly retrieve it, twitching it as you go. A small sinker can be placed about 2 inches above the jig for added weight. Local anglers like to use a chartreuse wiggle-tail jig on #8 weighted hook with a split shot placed one inch above the jig to mimic the appearance of a small minnow. Other good color combinations include red jigs with white skirts, and black jigs with yellow or white skirts. Don’t be afraid to try a variety of colors as what works one day may not be as effective the next.

Technique for catfish

For catfish, fish on the bottom using light or medium spinning tackle and 4- to 8-pound test line rigged with a slip-sinker and bait. Place the sliding sinker on the main line above the barrel swivel. Tie a 12- to 18-inch leader below the swivel and attach a hook baited with worms or stink bait, cut bait or some other catfish bait with a strong odor. The sliding sinker allows fish to take the bait before feeling the weight of the sinker.

Other great places to go warmwater fishing in the central area

Find your place to fish

Header Photo by Amanda, Flickr 

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