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Target Prineville Reservoir for bass and crappie

The bass fishery at Prineville Reservoir has improved dramatically during the past decade

by: CENTRAL OREGONIAN - A crappie caught at Prineville Reservoir.

The smallmouth bass were hitting pretty good at Prineville Reservoir the other day. A friend and I caught 25 or 30 in about an hour. But the bite started slow that morning.
   We got on the water around 9:30 or so and headed for a few of the coves he fished a week earlier where he had good success for bass. However, since then, the lake has either turned over or just got weeded up a bit and we got tired of pulling slimy weeds from our lures.
   So, we turned our attention to the rocky shorelines where the wind kept most of the weeds at bay. Most of the bass we caught were on black RippleWorms from Outlaw baits. We had luck with other plastics and even crappie jigs. The smallmouth weren’t trophies (most were 10-12 inches) but they fought good and were fun to catch. We also caught a few crappie.
   Another friend of mine came back from the reservoir the other day with about 15 nice crappie that averaged 10 or 11 inches. He asked me if I wanted them. I never refuse crappie — it’s one of my favorite fish to eat.
   The scenic 10-mile long Prineville Reservoir holds about equal quantities of smallmouth and largemouth bass. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocked the reservoir with bass after the completion of Bowman Dam across the Crooked River in the 1960s.
   In the early 1980s, a few severe droughts all but drained the reservoir. The limit on bass was lifted due to an anticipated fish kill and it is estimated that about 80 percent of the fish were caught and kept. Rain soon filled the reservoir, averting a fish kill, but most of the bass were gone. Many bass anglers and local bass clubs stayed away from the reservoir for years.
   The bass fishery at the reservoir has improved tremendously in the last decade. About 12 or 15 years ago, crappie were illegally introduced and the bass began feasting on the plentiful new source of food, which now account for up to 75 percent of their diet. The crappie are abundant and easy to catch for the bass. Before crappie entered the reservoir, bass preyed primarily on crawdads and trout fingerlings.
   According to ODFW, the nutrient-rich reservoir is very productive for both warmwater and coldwater fish. As for habitat, the reservoir offers ledges, boulders, gravelly points, shallow flats with stumps, and just about everything else that draw bass.
   Fishing is good for bass through October in the reservoir. In general, smallmouth bass can be found near rocky shorelines while largemouth bass prefer any wood structure such as stumps. Topwater lures work early and late in the day, while black plastic worms work best during mid-day.
   Top lures for the reservoir are black Powerworms and RippleWorms, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, Rattletraps, Rapalas, and poppers as well as a variety of flies such as streamers. Black and blue or pumpkin-colored jigs are also a sure bet. Prineville Reservoir usually has little fishing pressure and most anglers don’t realize the numbers of bass present.
   The reservoir held the state record for smallmouth bass for many years at six pounds six ounces until it was broken in 1994, with a fish from Hagg Lake weighing seven pounds four ounces. The state record largemouth is 11 pounds nine ounces from Butte Falls farm pond. Prineville largemouth can get up to eight pounds with many four to six pounders caught every year.
   Most bass usually become active at water temperatures around 52 to 54 degrees and begin to spawn when the water gets above 60 degrees, which is about now.
   It’s possible to catch fish any time of the day but topwater bites come early and late in the day. If you have your own boat, try fishing between 6 p.m. and dark. Popular sections to fish include the upper end of the reservoir where there are more flats with stumps jutting to the surface. Look for wood and you’ll likely find bass.
   The varied terrain — from shallows to steep, rocky drop-offs — is what makes the reservoir so good for bass. Some anglers have more luck with bass earlier in the morning when water conditions are calmer, the fish are more active and there are fewer people out on the reservoir.
   One of my favorite techniques is a black Berkley Powerworm fished slowly on the bottom. I use the four-inch for smallmouth and seven-inch for largemouth. Earlier in the morning, it’s a good idea target the surface with buzzbaits then eventually switch to crankbaits and spinnerbaits. I’ve heard of several largemouth being caught that weighed in around six pounds. I’ve also taken some nice smallmouth near rocky points.
   Regulations have changed over the past few years at the reservoir. There is now a 15-inch maximum length on both smallmouth and largemouth. The limit is five bass per day with only one being a largemouth bass.