558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
A nice-sized crappie caught at Prineville Reservoir.
If you like catching lots of fish and a variety of fish, then Brownlee Reservoir is the place. Impounded by Brownlee Dam in 1958, this part of the Snake River system provides some great fishing.
“Brownlee is probably the best fishery in the Northwest for catching a variety of warmwater species,” said Gary Gorbet, owner of Brownlee Charters in Richland. “I like the variety of fish in Brownlee and being able to go anywhere and find solitude.”
Gorbet fishes the reservoir most of the year and said fishing for all species has recently been on the upswing. Brownlee is home to a wide variety of fish including black and white crappie, smallmouth and largemouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, trout, brown bullhead, channel catfish, flathead catfish, and blue catfish. Most of the warmwater species were introduced in the early 1900s to the 1940s into the Snake River system.
Of all the fish present, Gorbet likes targeting crappie more than all the other species. While fishing for crappie, he said he usually catches some o
A 14-inch crappie caught at Ochoco Reservoir.
For crappie, Gorbet likes to target the banks in six to 20 feet of water in the Powder River Arm, paying special attention to rocky points jutting out into the reservoir. He prefers plastic tubes and grubs up to two inches long on 1/16-ounce leadheads. For best results, the hooks are tipped with Power Bait Crappie Nibbles.
Most crappie we caught measured 8 to 12 inches, with the biggest being 12 ½ inches. Gorbet has caught a few that measured 16 inches. When the crappie are really biting, he said his boat has brought back about 250 fish. There’s nothing like fishing in comfort. Gorbet’s 20-foot pontoon boat has four swivel chairs, shade canopy, changing room, porta-potty, electric motor, and plenty of room to move around for six of us anglers.
Even though crappie fishing appears to be pretty successful, it was once doing even better. According to Terry Schrader, warmwater fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bend, there was a boom in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A creel survey in 1989 found that anglers caught two million crappie, almost a million smallmouth bass, 70,000 yellow perch, and 60,000 channel catfish.
“Crappie populations tend to be cyclic,” Shrader said. He pointed out that there tends to be more white crappie in the upper part of the reservoir since they do better in more turbid water, while the lower end of Brownlee has more black crappie. The fish feed on zooplankton, insects, macroinvertebrates, and even small fish.
The fish cleaning station at Hewitt Park is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The stainless steel setup has water, a shade covering, and electrical hookups for those handy electric fillet knives. There are also three good boat ramps at the park as well as tent camping and RV hookups. Richland is only a few miles up the road.
To contact Brownlee Charters, call 541-893-6863 or go to www.brownleecharters.com.
We stayed at the Hitching Post Motel in Richland (541-893-6176), which also includes a store with groceries and just about all the fishing gear needed for the reservoir.
“Brownlee is a great fishery,” said Thorny Hampton, owner of the Hitching Post. “Crappie is king, but there are so many other species you can catch here.”
I knew there were crappie in Ochoco Reservoir just east of Prineville, but never heard of anglers catching lots of fish or any big fish — until recently.
The best place to target crappie is along the south shore of the reservoir, especially areas with submerged willows and rocks. On my last outing there, two of us had 32 crappie in the boat in a little over an hour and I threw only one fish back under 8 inches. The average fish measured 9 to 10 inches, with a few over 11 inches.
Most fish seemed to be near the bottom in 8 to 10 feet of water. They took our jigs so softly that at times it felt like we were stuck on the bottom. If we caught this many fish in only 150 yards of shoreline, it doesn’t take a mathematician to conclude there are probably several thousand crappie in the reservoir.
As for technique to catch crappie, we cast jigs toward shore and brought them back slowly on the bottom. They hit typical crappie jigs in chartreuse or red and white. I used something new my dad introduced me to called a Forage Minnow Fry from Northland Fisherman, and attached a small chartreuse plastic grub to the jig.
Crappie are among my favorite freshwater fish to eat. They have a mild flavor and are a nice flaky meat when you fry them up. I like to use a batter called Louisiana Fish Fry, which is available in most grocery stores.
Although crappie are fun to catch and good eating, ODFW would rather the fish not be in the reservoir.
“We are quite disappointed that crappie and bullhead were illegally introduced into Ochoco Reservoir,” said Brett Hodgson, regional fish biologist with ODFW in Bend. “I think ultimately it will have a negative impact on the trout fishing; it already has in Prineville Reservoir.” He said that people think they may be helping out a fishery by planting other species illegally, but in reality they are hurting it.
Crappie were first detected in the reservoir in 1997 by ODFW sampling and their numbers continue to increase. Hodgson predicts another four or five years until the crappie decrease in average size.
Crappie are structure-oriented and can be found throughout the entire reservoir near docks, floating logs, rocky shores, willows, and gravel bars — usually in about 6 to10 feet of water.
I’ve had the best success with a chartreuse wiggle-tail jig on a #8 weighted hook. Then place a 1/16-ounce split shot about an inch above the jig. This way the jig will drag straight out behind the sinker, resembling a swimming minnow. Cast the jig toward your target and slowly work it back, bouncing it off the bottom.
If you want to have a more successful fishing trip, keep an eye on the barometer. When the barometric pressure is low, fish tend stay on the bottom and don’t feed much. But, when the pressure is on the rise and between 31 and 34, they’ll hit just about anything you throw at them. The best time of day to catch crappie is between 7-11 a.m.
Crappie were illegally introduced into Prineville Reservoir. The ODFW’s annual sampling turned up the first fish in 1993. The next year they found 20. Then their population exploded.
Crappie are a very prolific. An average female can produce about 20,000 eggs with a survival rate of 1-10 percent depending on several variables. They will spawn on almost any substrate at depths from a few feet to 30 feet. Some years they can spawn a second time in the fall. With a minimum of 200 to a maximum of 4,000 young that could survive, it’s easy to see why they are found throughout the entire reservoir.