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Fishing Crater Lake National Park

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

Bill Matthews Outdoors Crater Lake
Tom fishing Crater Lake

Several months ago I was working in southern Oregon and stopped into the world famous Blackbirds Shopping Center in Medford. I met up with Tom Sittingdown, the sporting goods manager, and we went over some product lines. As we were talking Tom mentioned that he had heard that there was good fishing in Crater Lake National Park My ears pricked up at the mention of this and I wanted to know more. Tom went on to explain that he had heard that there can be good fishing in the park, but that very few people ever do it. I said that I would love to try it, and Tom agreed. We set a date and that was that.

A few months later the date had arrived. I drove to Medford and pulled into the Blackbird parking lot around 2:00 pm. The smoke was super thick in Medford from all the fires burning in the area. There is an especially large fire in Northern California and I think this is where the majority of smoke was coming from. I worked with Tom for the day and we decided to meet the next morning at 5:00 am to head to the park. It would be me, Tom and his good friend Don.

Bill Matthews Outdoors Crater Lake
Crater Lake National Park

We met the next morning, and headed to the Park. It was about a 2 hour drive from Medford. Once at the park we took Rim drive to Cleetwood cove, this is the only shore access on the entire lake.

Bill Matthews Outdoors Crater Lake
Cleetwood Cove Trail

We parked, got our gear together and headed down the trail. It is 1.1 mike to the bottom and it is relatively steep. You go through several switchbacks so it breaks up the descent. We arrived at the lake shore at around 9:00 am. The shore access area consists primarily of a boat launch, and some area to swim and picnic. There is just a couple hundred yards of area that you can access from the bank, beyond that the terrain is pretty bouldery and steep to access. Once we arrived at the bottom we found that several tourists were already there waiting on the first boat tour of the day. The first thing I noticed was that the water was absolutely crystal clear. the clearest water I had ever seen. it was like looking through glass to the bottom of the lake. Smoke hampered the view looking out over the lake, but it was still amazing.

Bill Matthews Outdoors Crater Lake
Crystal Clear Water in Crater Lake National Park

Our plan was to use spinners and spoons to go after the fish of Crater Lake. I started off casting a small Panther Martin spinner, but was unsuccessful. I could literally see my spinner coming through the crystal clear water from a long way away, and I never saw any fish following, I did however notice many fish breaking the surface on small bugs so I decided to convert my Eagle Claw Trail Master spin/fly rod from a spinning set up to a fly rod.

Bill Matthews Outdoors Crater Lake
My trusty Eagle Claw Trail Master Spin/Fly . Look how clear the water is in the background

Once I had my fly rod ready I looked at my box and saw that I only had a couple of flies. I saw one small - sz 14 Adams that looked similar to the bugs I could see o the water. I tied it on and it instantly got crushed by a fish. I went to set the hook and nothing…I was surprised that I did not get a hook in it, but it happens. Next cast, I had the exact same experience. The fish attacked my fly, I set the hook and nothing. Now I am thinking that either these are tiny fish, or they are just missing my fly. Anyway this went on for at least 10 strikes. I was dumbfounded and decided to inspect my fly…well that was it…the hook was broken off….Ugh! Just my luck..hike all the way into crater lake, figure out the bite and have only one good fly and discover it has a broken hook. Well, it you know me, you know this is fairly typical.

While I was going through all this, Tom was casting out a spoon as far as he could and he managed to catch 2 small kokanee and lost a really nice trout. I was glad that one of us was having success!

Small Kokanee Caught at Crater Lake

After fishing this area for a while, it got too crowed with tourists, so we moved to the other side of the boat dock. The shoreline is very steep and bouldery, so it is difficult to navigate. I stumbled over a few boulders and was able to find a good looking spot. I tied on the only other fly I had, a size 10 Royal Wolf and starting casting to some rising fish, but no takers. I noticed a bigger fish farther down the shore line working some surface bugs and cast my fly in his direction. As my fly touched the water I could clearly see the trout turn, approach my fly, open his mouth and take my fly. The water was so amazingly clear that I do not believe there are many places in the world that you could have seen this so clearly. It was like watching it in an aquarium, except it was Crater Lake National Park!!!! I clearly saw his nose just out of the water as he grabbed my fly. As the trout sank back down into the water I set the hook. The trout turned as he felt the hook and low and behold, my leader broke. Man was I ever woefully unprepared for this trip. Even though I lost that fish, the vision of him taking that fly is one that I will never forget, it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in all my fishing adventures. It reminded me of the pictures I have seen of fly fishing the crystal clear waters of New Zealand. This is definitely one of the most spectacular fishing setting in all the world.

Hiking out of Crater Lake

After I lost this trout I was out of flies and we were almost out of time. Tom and I both had to get going so we hiked out to the top, said our goodbyes and hit the road.

I will be back to Crater Lake national Park to fish again, but next time I will be prepared with the right fly fishing gear. This is as exotic of a fishing destination as you will find anywhere in the world and I highly recommend you give it a try. If you are into national parks with crystal clear lakes that have big trout and kokanee that will rise to a fly, then this is a bucket list destination for you too.


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