Top Big Trout Waters of The West!
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There are many trout waters in the West that contain rainbow and brown trout in the five-pound range, and many other waters with two- to three-pound cutthroat. But when you're after browns and rainbows of eight pounds and above, and cutthroat over five pounds--what I call big trout--you have far fewer options.
Below is a list of some of the best waters with good numbers of "big trout." For each listing, you'll also find the best times of year to seek them. A more complete listing of waters, local resources to take you to these trophies, what they feed on and how to fish them can be found in my book Big Trout (see Review: Big Trout).
Bear Lake (Garden City, UT). During December the Bonneville whitefish come into the shallows to spawn, creating an opportunity to catch the largest Bonneville cutthroat (Bear Lake stock). Other opportune times are during the month of January into the second week of February when the cutthroat prey on Bonneville ciscoes in shallow waters, and then again during the months of May, June, and July when some of the cutthroat are spawning and their cohorts prey on their eggs. Anglers target the river mouths during this latter opportunity.
Crane Prairie Reservoir (Sun River, OR). July through August offers good fishing over springs and in the river channels where the water is cooler. Rainbow trout can top ten pounds.
Davis Lake (Sun River, OR). Fish in the Odell Creek Channel and near the lava flow when the ice and roads clear around April 1st . Come back in the lava flow area from late September into early October as the rainbows fatten up for winter. (note: Davis Lake is not fishable in 2003 due to drought conditions, but it should bounce back after a couple of wet winters).
Duck Lake (Babb, MT), Kipp Lake (Browning, MT), Mission Lake (Browning, MT), Mitten Lake (Heart Butte, MT). Fish at ice-off at the end of April (lasting until the end of May) when the rainbows congregate into a fake spawn. Return during the latter part of October when the water temperatures become cooler and more conducive to active feeding. During both periods the weed growth is down which makes it easier to land the big rainbows. For the brown trout, fish from the end of September into early October when they go into a fake spawn.
East Lake (La Pine, OR), Paulina Lake (La Pine, OR). Both lakes have small populations of rainbow trout but the biggest fish are the brown trout. In Paulina, browns feed on abundant kokanee and tui chubs. In East Lake, the Tui chubs are their primary food source. In both lakes the browns also feed on stocked rainbows trout, when available. Both lakes have a thermocline. The best time to fish for the big browns is at ice-out, which occurs sometime around Memorial Day weekend, depending on the weather. Return in late September, early October when the warm summer water temperatures recede and fish move into shallower waters. The trout become territorial and aggressive as they approach their spawning period and cruise the shoreline. East Lake closes on the last day of October.
Hebgen Lake (West Yellowstone, MT). Hebgen Lake fishes well for big browns cruising the shoreline as the ice comes off (early May) and fishing lasts until the end of the spring turnover (first week of June). Browns are also available in the fall as they stage to run up the Madison River to spawn. This highly productive water has brown trout up to 15 pounds.
Henry's Lake (West Yellowstone, MT). The big cut-bow hybrids are easiest to catch from the last weekend in May until the second weekend in June when the water is just starting to warm, vegetation is still down and the fish are often feeding near the shorelines. For the big brook trout, focus on the mouths of the tributaries where these fish start to congregate.
Lake Pend Oreille (Hope, ID). The best time to catch the big Gerrard-strain rainbows, locally called "kams", is from the second week in October when the surface water temperature is about 56 degrees until the second week in November when it drops to 42 degrees. Most of the rainbows over 25 lbs are caught during this period, and 80% of the big rainbows are caught within 10 days of Halloween. From March 1 until the second week of April is another good period as the trout start staging to spawn at the mouths of the Clark Fork and Pack Rivers.
Omak Lake, (Omak, WA). Fish the north end of the Lake from early February until the end of the month for concentrating pre-spawn Lahontan cutthroat trout.
Pyramid Lake (Reno, NV). There are two key periods to take a Lahontan cutthroat trout here. The first is from late February until the second week in April when they are cruising the shoreline in search of spawning areas. The second period is from the middle of November to the second week in December. The older fall spawners generally run larger than the first year spring ones.
Quake Lake (West Yellowstone, MT). Quake Lake fishes best for big browns cruising the shoreline on the northeast shore from the old boat launch up lake to the mouth of Beaver Creek when the ice comes off (early May) and lasts until the end of the spring turnover (first week of June). The lake has a great deal of standing timber and sees little angling pressure. An ideal time and place for the big browns is at the inlet of the Madison River from the early part of October into November when they are preparing to spawn.
Spinney Reservoir (Hartsel, CO), Eleven Mile Reservoir (Hartsel, CO). Both reservoirs fish well for big rainbows and cutthroat when the trout look for spawning grounds along the shoreline. Eleven Mile Reservoir fishes best from the end of March into the first two weeks of April, and Spinney at ice-out from the middle of May for about two weeks.
Upper Klamath Lake (Ft. Klamath, OR). Fish near the mouths of the creeks and over springs in the Outer Banks in the Pelican Bay area from the middle of July into the third week of August when the big trout gravitate towards cooler oxygenated water. Try again at the mouth of the Wood River and Williamson River (at adjacent Agency Lake) during the latter two weeks in August.
Wickiup Reservoir (Sun River, OR). Fish early in the season from the fourth Saturday in April through the month of May when big browns move into shallow water near the dam. Many will hold there through the summer. Try again in the Sheep Bridge area during the last two weeks of August when the kokanee come up to spawn.
Migratory Trout Rivers
South Platte between Eleven Mile Reservoir and Spinney Reservoir (Hartsel, CO). The prime time to catch big cutthroats is when they begin their spawning run, from early to mid March.
Williamson River (Chiloquin, OR). The Upper Klamath Lake redband rainbows move into the river from late August into the end of September, triggered by the warming of the lake and spawning urges.
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