Klamath River Rainbow

Fall angling in the Klamath Basin can combine some of the best weather and the biggest fish of the entire year.

Klamath Falls is one of the rare places in Oregon that experiences four, distinct seasons. We begin with a long winter, enjoy a brief spring, a hot and smoky summer and then the real reason people live here: Klamath falls.

Autumn in the Basin is our unrivaled best season. We (usually) have no smoke, no snow, no staggering heat and no bitter cold. In fact, with all of my travels, I can confidently say the early Klamath falls — however brief — are as close as weather gets to idyllic anywhere in the world.

With all this fantastic weather, you’ll probably find yourself looking for something to do. When forcing pumpkin into every recipe sufficiently alters your digestive processes and rooting for your favorite football team loses its flavor (or starts to taste too much like pumpkin), it’s time to look outdoors. Since most outdoorsmen and women will be hunting, now is the best time to fish.

In a typical year, September offers Basin anglers the greatest variety of fishing opportunities. You can chase everything locally available: trout, bass, salmon, sunfish, perch, wipers, chubs and catfish within two hours of town. Though air temperatures are cooling, the water is still warm enough to keep all of these fish feeding actively.

Given this variety, here are half a dozen great options for September:

Rocky Point perch and chubs: Simply fishing a small jig or worm from the docks or from a small boat in one of the weed-choked creeks at Rocky Point will yield fish. You should expect piles of yellow perch and native tui and blue chubs. Keep the invasive perch to eat; release the native chubs for the trout to eat; they’re the reason our trout get so big. No other spot will offer the blend of beauty, high catch rates, accessibility and relative peace as Rocky Point in the fall. Bring some larger lures and take a break to cast for one of the massive native trout still hanging around — just be sure to let it go after a quick picture.

Mountain Lakes trout: Campbell, Cottonwood Meadow, Deadhorse, Fish, Lofton, Lost Creek, Medco, Miller plus those in northern California all support holdover hatchery trout. There are almost a dozen lakes within two hours of Klamath Falls stocked with rainbow trout. Now, these are domestic fish, so they’re not going to be a challenging quarry, but they’re easy to catch, pretty to look at and many people like to eat them (gross, but you do you). Until the rains begin, these fish are going to be concentrated in fairly low water, making them even easier to catch. If these lakes don’t get a lot of water this fall, there will likely be a massive fish kill, so keeping some trout will keep them from going to waste. Generally, the limit is five per person per day but check before you go.

Topsy bass: The young of the year largemouths stack up in the shallows during the early fall. If you go on a bright, sunny day, you can sight fish them with small jigs, flies or bits of worm. It’s very realistic to get 100-plus fish in a few hours if you find them. Keep an eye out for the big bass, which abandon their nests before the fish spawn and then follow their hapless young into the shallows months later to eat the poor basstards.

Williamson River trout: Honestly, trout fishing in early September is terrible in terms of productivity. You will catch fewer trout now than any other time but the dead of winter. That said, the fish are heavily concentrated in the Williamson River, and many of the fish you catch will be huge. When the lake cools, trout will return there to feed. When the rains and snows begin, trout will run up the other rivers to spawn, but for now, trout are thick in the Willy. It is a catch-and-release fishery that requires single hooks, so bear that in mind.

Lake of the Woods perch: Though you have to pay to access this area, and it’s an absolute zoo in the summer, once boat traffic dies down, you can quickly fill a bucket with perch and maybe land a few crappie and big bass along the way. Stick around after dark for some bullhead catfish. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of these fish, but the Lake of the Woods bullheads taste better than any others I’ve had, due to the cold, clean water.

Late falls

If you were to ask what species provides the best fishing opportunities in the month of October, I would answer trout — without a doubt. Many folks don’t realize this, but trout — specifically redband trout — are migratory.

Responding to changes in water temperature and following the urge to spawn, salmon are known for epic migrations, but Klamath Basin trout travel long distances to spawn, too. Unlike the salmon, trout usually don’t die after propagating future generations if they enter the spawn period healthy.

Redbands are fairly unique among fish in that they can spawn at any time during the year. Winter, spring, fall and summer, there are pockets of redband trout throughout the Klamath Basin spawning, but the largest migration begins in October.

In October, trout move en masse into the Klamath, Link, Sprague and Williamson Rivers to spawn or en route to spawn, as if signaled by the pumpkin spices lattes, Ugg boots and scarves, making for high fish concentrations and a reasonable chance to land a monster for those who choose a fishing rod over a bow, rifle or sofa and football game.

Since the trout are spawning, best practice is to release the majority of the fish you catch, specifically the larger ones, as each mature fish plays a vital role in the success of its species. Not only this, but even the best-eating trout is a tragic culinary insult next to any saltwater fish or even the most discounted canned salmon. If you have to smoke it to make it passably edible, it’s worth more left alive.

So catch one, let it go quickly and do it again.

If chasing trophy trout in rivers isn’t your thing, there are some other options for October:

Planters: For those looking to keep a few fish, consider filling a cooler with the larger planted fish that survived the season at Lake of the Woods, Howard Prairie Lake, Hyatt Lake, Lost Creek Lake, Miller Lake or Fish Lake. Some of the eastern lakes will have snow in October, and some of the shallower lakes at low elevation like Medco will likely have already experienced fish kills, so have backup plans if you choose these places in October. The rainbow trout stocked in these locations are usually strains not native to the area (not redbands), and are placed there specifically to be harvested, so harvest them guilt-free, up to five per person.

Smallies: I’ve experienced some of the best smallmouth bass fishing of my life in October and early November. Smallies have been illegally introduced into an alarming number of lakes and rivers in southern Oregon, and though they are wreaking havoc on native fisheries, they are fun to catch. The Umpqua River is a drive away, but can yield double-digit days regularly. Howard Prairie and Lost Creek Lake are still great closer options. You can also harvest bass if you choose, generally up to five per person.

Perch: Perch typically spawn from August through October, but record-high temperatures and record-low water will likely alter the perch spawn this year, pushing it out of August entirely and firmly into September, October and maybe event November. Water temperatures will start to approach the sub-50-degree water that triggers the perch spawn. Numerous area waters hold large numbers of perch, including Willow Lake, Lake of the Woods, Upper Klamath Lake at Rocky Point and numerous ponds. Perch bite easily, but are very tentative, making larger lures somewhat ineffective. Use small baits and small hooks to catch a mess of this non-native fish classified as “invasive” in most Oregon waterways. Best of all? This is the one local freshwater fish that actually tastes good enough to justify the effort of cleaning, and there is no limit.

No matter what you decide to fish for, appreciate the crisp mornings, sunkissed afternoons, miasma of colors and clean air that collectively serve to punctuate the special reality of Klamath falls.

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