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Lake Billy Chinook - Fly Fishing for Native Bull Trout in Central Oregon

By Zach Parker

For many fly fishermen, bull trout are simply a figment of their imagination. A fish that they’ve seen glorified on fly fishing films showcasing their beautiful colors and innate ability to hunt and kill big streamers. These fish have been placed on a pedestal of greatness for their elusiveness, the rugged terrain in which they inhabit and most importantly, their killer instinct. 

For most people, bull trout will be a species they only dream of pursuing on the fly due in large part to their diminishing range, but also to their elusive and obscure nature. A day fishing for bull trout, is a day hunting one of the coolest, meanest freshwater fish you can catch on a fly rod. Lake Billy Chinook in Central Oregon boasts one of the last strongholds of this native species in the Lower 48 where you can legally target these fish. 

Lake Billy Chinook lies in a gorgeous desert canyon at the confluence of the Crooked, Middle Deschutes and Metolius rivers and was created from the installment of the Round Butte Dam in 1964. One of the most robust populations of bull trout in the Lower 48 reside in these waters and utilize the cold, clean waters of the Metolius River and its tributaries for spawning in the fall. Bull trout are listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act throughout their range of Alaska to Northern California, so having the opportunity to pursue these fish in our backyards of Central Oregon is a privilege not to be taken for granted. 

The Inside Scoop:

If there is anything that I have learned in my fishing career thus far, it would be that there is no substitute for time on the water. I can tell you all of the things that I know about catching bull trout on LBC, but if you are not willing to give up long days on the water grinding it out for yourself, then this fishery may not be for you. Bull trout on the fly do not come easy but they will make you a better angler and are well worth the chase. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun. Right?

Author Zach Parker with a 30 inch class Native Bull Trout

When To Go and What to Look For:

Bull trout live in all areas of the lake but are most abundant in the Metolius arm of the lake due to the cold and clean water pumping in from the Metolius River on the far west side of the lake. This zone opens March 1st and closes October 31st and fishing is usually pretty good right right out of the gates. I fish hard in March, April, May and even into June and then typically shift my focus towards the river. By this time, the rest of the lake begins to warm up and it pushes all the bulls into the metolius arm where they stage before making their journey up the river to spawn in late summer/early fall. 

When I’m hunting bulls, I start by hunting kokanee. Crashing kokanee on the surface = bull trout. This is their primary food source and will voraciously chase them around like a pack of wolves. Most of my success with bulls comes in depths of 10-30 feet of water. I look for coves, diving osprey, and rocky points that have the right depth and then it is simply a matter of casting, casting, and more casting. 

Unlike their river counterparts, lake fish are constantly on the move versus just holding in the river current. The longer the cast you can make, the more water you can cover, and the higher likelihood of your fly intercepting a moving fish. I tend to give each spot 20-30 min before I pull anchor and relocate. Covering as much water as possible throughout the day is paramount. You have to move to find fish. 

The Gear:

Single hand 9-10’ 7 and 8 weight fast action rods are pretty typical for this fishery. The reel should match the rod weight and have a good strong disc drag that you can crank down on a big fish. My current setup is a 9’ 8 weight Sage One paired with a Galvan Torque T-8. Some other great rod options for this fishery would be a Sage Sonic 890-4, Gloomis IMX Pro V2 8100-4, or a Scott Session 890-4

Line choice is another important element to think about. Full sink lines are integral to success. RIO Outbound Short I/S3/S5 is a good line with a bulky head to help deliver large flies at distance. I prefer the RIO Fathom S7 line as this has one sink rate throughout the entirety of the head at 7 inches per second, versus the multi sink rate line in the OBS. Both work, but the Fathom is my preference. 


My favorite way to catch these fish in the lake is on big home tied streamers that imitate kokanee. Any large baitfish streamer will work fine, but I have found that larger flies typically hunt down larger fish. Some of my favorite patterns that we sell in the shop would be the Rainy’s Misdemeanor Rainbow, MFC’s McClure’s Kill Whitey, and Umqua’s Dragon Bond in Black. Balanced leeches and large red chironomids under an indicator on shallow 10-15ft shoals and flats can be productive too but typically for smaller fish. I don’t drive out to billy chinook to stare at an indicator though so I am usually throwing big streamers and searching for big fish. 

It’s important to manage expectations in this fishery. I spent many days where I caught nothing before I started to figure it out and have consistent success. As I stated earlier, you just have to go and put in the time to figure it out. As always, we’re an open book at the shop for any questions you may have. We have the best gear money can buy in our shop to get you set up to chase bull trout. Best of luck to you and we’ll see you in the shop or on the water!

Paul Snowbeck
Paul Snowbeck

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