Fishing for lake trout and landlocked salmon on Oregon’s Odell Lake.

By Gary Lewis

Flashers and dodgers, ultraviolet jigs, hoochies, wedding rings and purple scorn… I mean, corn. It sounds like just another night in Las Vegas, but it’s not. It’s kokanee fishing in the high Cascades.

Robert Troy landed this Odell Lake laker during the Mackinaw Derby.

Robert Troy landed this Odell Lake laker during the Mackinaw Derby.

On shore, at Shelter Cove Resort, lights began to flicker outside darkened RVs as fishermen sipped their coffee and strung their rods. Already, trolling motors hummed in the stillness of the dawn.

In all of fishing, there is no one else like the kokanee angler. These guys help each other, they offer advice on YouTube and online forums and they might even rig your gear for you, because every angler on the lake knows what it is like to get skunked, even when there are hundreds of fish below the boat.

In the middle of a full moon cycle, I didn’t hold any illusions about catching my limit. Down to the end of the dock in the dark, where a boat waited for me, I told myself I’d be happy to land a couple of fish for dinner.

I stepped off the dock onto Tim O’Neil’s North River jet boat and shook hands with Hop Jackson and his son Justin from Yoncalla. For a few hours, we would be adopted members of the Kokanee Nation, that body of anglers that gathers on lakes from California to Utah to British Columbia to angle for that most cynical of salmon, the landlocked sockeye.

There were seven boats on the water before us. On the Lowrance depth finder, the kokanee looked to be between 15 feet and 45 feet below the surface, with the occasional bigger blip down below that signified the lurking predator lake trout.

Hop, with a three-ounce sinker on his line was first to hook up and I lost no time in swapping for a heavier weight to drag my bait closer to the bottom. After a little experimentation, I hit on a combination that fooled my first kokanee of the day. It was a set of Mack’s Lure Flash Light flashers trailed by a Smile Blade Hoochie tipped with purple Fire Corn.

Gary Lewis and Jon Ditgen admire a nice mackinaw taken on a May afternoon.

Gary Lewis and Jon Ditgen admire a nice mackinaw taken on a May afternoon.

When we saw fish splash near shore, we cast jigs and spinners to hook several more. Hop, throwing a Promise Keeper spinner, enticed a big rainbow out of the shallows and Justin landed a ten-incher on a Rooster Tail.

Back at the dock, I talked with Jim and Trula Kielblock, fixtures on the west end of Odell Lake and owners of Shelter Cove Marina.

According to the Kielblocks, the biggest lake trout to the boat last year was a 37-pound mackinaw landed by an angler from Redding.

On the other end of the lake, at Odell Lake Resort, Jon Ditgen agreed with Kielblock’s assessment that the fishing is as good or better than it has been in the last 15 years.

Tim O’Neil, of Bend, shows off a kokanee caught on a calm day on Odell Lake.

Tim O’Neil, of Bend, shows off a kokanee caught on a calm day on Odell Lake.

“We are seeing more 15- to 20-pound macks than ever,” Ditgen said, “and catching a lot of kokanee. We’ll be out trolling for macks and see a ball of kokanee on the screen and put another clip on the downrigger cable and run a dodger and a hoochie tipped with Berkley Gulp! maggots. Sometimes we’re bringing kokanee in the boat while we’re fighting a big lake trout.”

At midday, the wind whipped up the surface of the lake, but Ditgen thought we might be able to put the steel to a lake trout if we gave it a try. We ran west from the marina and cut the motor in 130 feet of water. Here there was an underwater hump and we dropped the downrigger balls all the way to the bottom then cranked them back up as the wind pushed us into the zone.

In less than seven minutes, we had a mack to the boat, a fish that looked to go about 28 inches. To keep a lake trout on Odell, it has to measure in at 30 inches or longer.

When last I fished Odell, it was with three friends during the Mackinaw Derby. I opted to keep my first fish, which weighed in at about 10 pounds. Bob Bennett kept an 11-pound, 9-ounce fish.

We had two fish left to catch. A hundred feet down, a J-Plug wiggled its temptation. It dug, it shimmied, it rattled, the tip of the rod pulsed and the downrigger cable hummed in the wind. We had an hour and a half left till the six o’clock horn and the end of the day’s fishing when the rod tip plunged toward the water and the line pulled away from the downrigger clip.

Jennifer Lewis with a deep-bellied lake trout. This 31-inch, 12-pound big mack smacked a Flatfish at a depth of about 125 feet. From late-May into the summer, lake trout are deepwater fish. Through July and August you may find fish as deep as 140 to 160 feet. The fish will move up and down in the water column on a daily basis, feeding on kokanee and other food fish.

Jennifer Lewis with a deep-bellied lake trout. This 31-inch, 12-pound big mack smacked a Flatfish at a depth of about 125 feet. From late-May into the summer, lake trout are deepwater fish. Through July and August you may find fish as deep as 140 to 160 feet. The fish will move up and down in the water column on a daily basis, feeding on kokanee and other food fish.

Line blistered off the reel. The big lake trout wallowed and Tim gained line before the fish ran again. Five head-shaking, arm-wrenching minutes later, the fish was alongside the boat.

The weigh master’s craft showed through the fog. Tim McLagan’s trophy pulled the scale to 18 pounds, 3 ounces for second place in the derby. The next day, an even bigger mackinaw was brought to the net, which pushed Tim’s lake trout back to third place for the finish, Robert Troy’s to eighth place and Bob Bennett’s and my lake trout into Never-never land.

At the Sunday afternoon award ceremony, a 21-pound, 11-ounce lake trout placed first. An 18-pound, 8-ounce lake trout placed second and Tim McLagan’s fish took third.

It is an astounding fishery. Last stocked with lake trout and kokanee in the 1950s, Odell continues to kick out big macks and medium-sized kokes. Just right for your next fish fry.

To order a signed copy of Fishing Central Oregon and Beyond, send $34.95 (includes S&H) to Gary Lewis Outdoors, PO Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709 or visit www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.

Your best bet for a 50-pound lake trout!

Odell’s lake trout fishery was established by stocking efforts in the early 1900s, and Oregon’s current state record laker was caught in Odell in 1984. That fish tipped the scales to 40 pounds, eight ounces. Most of the fish run between five and 15 pounds, but the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has recorded lake trout in the 50-pound range.

Mackinaw Hardware

Rig up with medium-heavy spinning or baitcasting gear with 15- to 25-pound test line. Braided line is a good choice, because it does not stretch and deepwater bites are felt – and responded to – faster.
    Clip the main line to the downrigger with a quick disconnect that allows an angler to “pop” the line free and fight the fish without being tied to the weight.
    Knot the main line to a flasher system then tie on a four-foot leader terminated at the lure. Think big. An M-2 Flatfish, a J-Plug, a Shasta Matrix or a Mack’s Lure Cha Cha Squidder are good options. With the flashers and the bait you get the shake and rattle to troll up a gluttonous lake trout looking for an easy meal. Sweeten it with a ‘crawler and a liberal application of Smelly Jelly to start the scent trail that closes the deal.

-Gary Lewis