Better in Brownlee
Even though it’s shared with Idaho, Brownlee’s 52-mile long, 15,000 acres offer plenty of smallmouth bass fishing, decent largemouth action, various catfish and some often overlooked panfishing and fair trout trolling. This extremely popular reservoir gets all sorts of pressure so, if possible, try to fish during the week.
Spring is the best time to visit and even then It’s not always scenic either as in dry years there’s lots of bare bank above the surface. That should be fine with anglers as it’s clear that half as much water with the same amount of fish should at least double the action, and the draw down is required by the Endangered Species Act and the need for sustained flows for salmon and steelhead.
Both white and black crappie can come by bunches in the spring and summer when boaters gang up along inlets and flip 1/64th to 1/16th ounce jigs up next to the bank. Do bring a selection of jig colors and move often until you find fish. Fishing jigs under small floats is productive too. Some dress the jig hook with a mealy. Perch also come to mealworms, and the northern end of the reservoir has some decent bluegills. Try foam flies with rubber legs or tiny spinners.
As is the case in most steep bank, rocky banked reservoirs, smallmouth bass cooperate early in the season when small tube lures fished on #3 to #6 line work best if tossed up against the cliffs that drop off into gravel beds. Jigs work well too. Fly fishers should consider #6 Clouser Minnows early in the season and size up to #4 and even #2 Clouser Minnows as baitfish sizes increase over the year.
Largemouth hold up in weeds and shallows. Their numbers seem to be in decline due, one suspects, to draw downs and the loss of cover as this reservoir matures. Trolling small crayfish and rainbow trout finish plugs tight to the bank is a good searching pattern. Clousers suit fly fishers here too. Once you locate the cover that holds fish that day you can switch to casting.
Note: even in the heat of summer, dawn and dusk “stealth” fishing up in the heads of inlets with live streams can produce some splendid bass on small hair poppers that are easier to cast than hard bodies. Spin and plug fishermen can do well with frog finish Hula Poppers™
Trout fishers usually troll with spinners, Rooster Tails ™, plugs or spoons. Note: Anglers with Idaho licenses can get two rod tags to slow troll one rig and cast another towards the bank.
As always, with “two story” reservoirs that warm up top, but say cold below water temperature keys the action. As a rule inlet action peaks off live streams such as Rock, Sturgill or Dennet Creek after the water warms up.
Given the size of the reservoir canoes and prams seem a bit suspect if winds are in the offing. So bring life jackets and either hole up in a sheltered cover or, head back to the ramp. Don’t forget the sun block either as it can get extremely hot in the summer.
The hottest action year-round must be catfish with shrimp, mealworms, red worms, crayfish and all sorts of stink baits usual. Note that fresh dead minnows are excellent channel catfish baits and the section below Farwell Bend is usually most productive. In the winter you can do okay with stocked rainbows with bait, flies or lures.
However, before you load the cooler with crappie or catfish fillets do note that there’s a health advisory for mercury contamination and consumption is limited.
Getting there is easy via Highway 86 from Baker, Oregon with ramps at Richland and Spring Camp, or via Highway 84 with camping and a ramp at Farewell Bend.