Billy Chinook or Round Butte Reservoir as some prefer to
call it is the only lake in the lower 48 states that allows
fishing for and the harvest of one bull trout daily. The
fish must be at least 24 inches, which is a minor task since
these fish can add several pounds in a year. The Oregon
State record caught back in 1989 weighed in at just over
23 Lb. Each year fish in the teens are caught and released
and I am talking pounds not inches.
I will never
forget the first time I ventured out on the lake back in
1996. Armed with a few Rapala Shad raps in black/silver
and the suggestion to go work the Metolius Arm along the
shoreline, I headed out. It was 12:00 noon and I had started
much later than I had originally planned. The ODFW employee
at the ramp told me to go toward the dam and then make a
left. I would then be at the entrance of the arm.
never been on the lake before, it was a crapshoot as to
where I should start. I decided on a point on the southern
shore and put the #7 Shad Rap back as I lined up to come
in across the point and then follow the shore down into
the bay beyond it. I had been working the 15-30 foot depths
about 10 minutes when I reached the back of the cove. I
remember spotting some small kokanee bustin’ the top
and thinking this was looking better all the time. As my
boat passed by the cove and the lure was probably just reaching
it, all of a sudden, the rod goes over in the holder and
the drag clicker begins to scream. Startled and excited,
I fumbled to get the rod out and proceeded to hang on until
the run stopped. I am having fun now!
I had never
fished for bull trout and did not really know what to expect
but that day I learned something about them I have seen
many times since then. When they get near the boat, they
often bull dog down or away on some nice runs and do not
give up easily. After several minutes of give and take,
the big female was beside the boat and I was thrilled to
see she was pushing 30 inches. She far exceeded what I was
expecting on a first outing. I was just hoping to catch
a bull trout or two and did not think I would land a trophy
on the first fish. My Cardoza spring scale read 11.5 LB.
and I was shocked to land such a toad in my first half hour
on the lake. Just so you know, my standard for a trophy
trout is a fish exceeding 10 Lb.
When I got back to the dock, Craig Soule the ODFW employee
mentioned earlier, was surprised to see me back so soon.
I told him what had happened and that I was intending to
mount the fish, so I was finished for the day. I was impressed
that after only one hour on the water, I had hooked and
landed a trophy bull trout. What a wonderful fishery and
only 60-minutes from home. This is just one of the reasons
I love living here in Central Oregon.
Size Does Matter
prove my point about their terrific growth rates, my first
bull had a tag in her back that I returned to ODFW. It turns
out that she had been caught and tagged by Aquatic Biologist,
Don Ratliff about 26 months earlier and at that time; she
was 21.5 inches and weighed in at just less than 5 LB. This
hen had gained over 6.5 Lb. in a little over 2 years! More
astounding than that, was the growth rate of a second tagged
bull I caught back in 1999. This fish, caught in April of
that year, was 23.25 inches long and weighed 5 Lb. 7 oz.
When I received the report from the biologist a month later,
I was astonished to learn that the bull was only 13 oz.
and a little over 14 inches when originally tagged in April
of 1998. That is a gain of 9.25 inches and 4 Lb. 10 oz.
in only a year! Now you know why these fish attain the size
they do on a diet of primarily kokanee.
Geography and Scenery
Lake Billy Chinook
is a jewel nestled in the canyons of the Crooked, Deschutes
and Metolius Rivers. These arms range in lengths of 9 to
12 miles each and are home to many nesting pairs of Bald
Eagles each spring. On some days, we have seen a dozen different
birds in the air at one time. You can also spot Golden Eagles
and various other raptors if you have a keen eye.
majestic basalt cliffs that greet you as you drop down into
Cove Palisades stand between 300 to 400 feet tall. There
are intricate rock formations that were formed by the lava
flows long ago. The sweeping, swirling circles of rock are
unlike anything I have seen anywhere else. On any given
day, you might spot small herds of Mule Deer along the cliffs.
Farther up the Metolius Arm, we often see cattle and horses
that belong to the Warm Springs Tribe grazing along precarious
trails or getting a drink at the shoreline.
If you drag a big plug that runs 10-20 feet deep and resembles
the kokanee, you will catch some bulls. When I first started
fishing the lake, the Shad Raps and larger size Flatfish
and Quickfish seemed to be the ticket. My buddies and I
have been experimenting with various plugs the last several
years. Some of my favorites are the A/C plugs, Pro-Troll
Stingkings, Yozuri Minnows, and the Lyman plugs.
prototype-testing EChips for Dick Pool a couple of winters
ago, we discovered that we could catch deeper suspended
bulls with downriggers. We were amazed at the success we
had on those first outings. I believe we caught and released
nine bulls the first day, up to 9.5 Lbs. We have even caught
some nice 4 LB. browns on a couple of occasions working
just under the kokanee schools. One thing is for certain,
downriggers are a huge advantage in pursuing bull trout.
Another technique I employ is what I call “rattling
the rocks.” This is just what it sounds like and is
not for the frugal anglers, as you will lose some lures.
You purposely run your diving lures at depths that knock
the bottom consistently. If there are bull trout around,
it really pushes their buttons. As I said earlier, you will
lose some lures but it could make the difference between
catching fish and not.
Another advantage of the downriggers is the use of the Black
Box, a product put out by Pro-Troll that allows you to control
the voltage your boat is emitting. Commercial salmon fishermen
have known for years that low voltage can play a significant
part in catching fish. Unknown to most anglers, your boat
is putting out a voltage that may be repelling or attracting
fish. With the Black Box, you can know your actual voltage
and set the voltage on your downrigger cables to attract
fish. For more information about Pro-Troll products, visit
State of the Fishery
Ironically, right before I was about to finish this article,
I got a return call from Scott Lewis. Scott is a Fish Biologist
with PGE. I had called him a week or so earlier to introduce
myself and let him know of my plans to guide at Billy Chinook.
His call turned out to be a real revelation for me.
a few minutes of introductions and some small talk, we got
to the subject of bull trout numbers and their overall condition
in the lake. A few months back, the Bend Bulletin ran an
article on the annual survey of redd (spawning beds) counts
for the bull trout up in the Metolius River. This year it
was up to over 1,000 and a steady improvement over the past
five years when there were around 500 in the late 90’s.
That is good news, or is it? According to Scott, the science
and the data is pointing to a peak or plateau for the bull
trout population. This has come about because of several
factors including an aggressive program to limit the take
to one fish per day and set a minimum size limit of 24 inches
or larger on the bull trout. That has been in effect for
many years. On the other end of the scale is a steep decline
in the kokanee population. These occurrences often go in
cycles and right now, it appears that the predator/forage
balance is top heavy with too many bull trout and not enough
kokanee to sustain them.
I have been observing similar conditions at Pend Oreille
Lake in Northern Idaho the past 15 years. As a member of
the L.P.O.I.C., I have tried to keep abreast of the fishery.
Their problems are a bit more complex because they have
even more variables. Three top end predators (lake trout,
bull trout and the giant Gerrad rainbows) and lake level
fluctuations that adversely affect the shore spawning koknaee
had led them to regulations that now encourage the take
of five rainbows a day. The limits on lake trout were lifted
altogether. On the other hand, the kokanee limit has dropped
to zero. This is an aggressive turn around from the days
of 25 kokanee limits and the encouragement of catch and
release of the Kamloops rainbows. The plan looks like it
is having a positive effect as kokanee numbers are on the
It comes down to this. If the forage base gets too small,
the top end predator numbers will crash. The biologists
on the project are strongly recommending some changes to
the management of the fishery. With plans to reintroduce
kings, sockeyes and steelhead into the system within a few
years, they are concerned that the bull trout numbers are
not balanced. They are suggesting a more liberal limit on
the bulls and perhaps dropping the size limit to 18 inches.
For those of you who have been squirming in your seat as
you read the last few paragraphs, let me say this. We have
a unique fishery with the bull trout in Lake Billy Chinook.
They have thrived! In most of their traditional habitats
in the northwest, the bull trout populations declined and
are listed as endangered species in many states. This is
because they are highly sensitive and require a limited
range of cool water temperatures and pristine conditions.
This lake is truly one of the success stories for the bull
trout. Since we are not going to tear down the dams or be
able to restore their entire habitat to the days of old,
let us work with what we have. It looks like they may need
to consider some changes in the way the bull trout are managed
on this lake.
Boat Rental/Guide Trip Package
this spring season 2006, Cove Palisades Marina in conjunction
with Trophy Trout Guide Service is offering a special three-day
combination houseboat rental with one day of free fishing
guide service included. All of this for only $1850! The
amenities on the houseboats are unbelievable. At 60 feet,
they have everything including two kitchen sinks, no pun
intended. The spacious salon area has a gas fireplace with
big screen stereo TV including home entertainment sound
system with DVD and VCR. The kitchen area is loaded and
features full size appliances including fridge/freezer,
microwave and dishwasher. The five staterooms all have there
own TV’s with DVD and VCR. The upper deck has a hard
top covered entertainment area with built in BBQ, stainless
kitchen sink, stereo system and large screen TV. There is
even a hot tub and a bar. I almost forgot there is a water
slide as well. Contact
me if you are interested in discussing this package.
If your budget is a little tighter, consider a guided trip
with me for bulls, browns or kokanee starting in February
through June and then again in the fall. I offer half and
full day trips and if you get that trophy, I can mount it
for you as well.