: Crane Prairie, by Justin Bailie

Beginner’s Guide to Bass Fishing in Oregon

Where to go and how to hook this feisty fish.
February 18, 2022

While cold-water salmon and steelhead may be the popular kids in the Oregon fishing scene, Oregon’s warm-water fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass make for some great fishing, no matter your level of expertise. These green and golden species generally live in lakes, reservoirs and rivers where they reproduce in warmer spring and summer waters. In the spring, bass become more active and start moving into inshore lakes and reservoirs and into stream shallows so they can spawn. These conditions produce the best fishing all year-round. 

To get started, all you need is a general angling license from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. You don’t need to be an expert angler to hook them, and you can target them just about anywhere in the state. Here are some handy tips so you can try your hand at catching these popular species. Go on your own or with an expert guide at one of Oregon’s many rivers and lakes.


fishing docks on calm water
Just north of Florence on the Central Coast, Mercer Lake is a great spot for fishing as well as boating and camping. Courtesy of Cari Garrigus / Eugene, Cascades & Coast

Trophy-Size Largemouth on the Oregon Coast

Because they tend to gravitate toward shoreline structure in spring, bass are easy to target from the bank, but fishing from a boat can expand access. Near Reedsport and Florence on the Central Oregon Coast, Tenmile and Siltcoos lakes are common destinations — both with developed boat ramps and facilities — frequented by tournament anglers. Mercer Lake offers a variety of outdoor recreation activities, while Tahkenitch Lake in the Siuslaw National Forest is a slightly more secluded option for camping or just to get away from town. A little farther north, Olalla Lake is a short drive inland from the coastal town of Newport. Olalla Lake permits kayak and belly boats — a small inflatable craft — but not boats with gas motors, making it a great destination for anglers seeking a little peace and quiet on the lake. 

Deluxe drift boats on the John Day in Eastern Oregon

Along the Wild and Scenic John Day River, expert guide Steve Fleming with Mah Hah Outfitters in Fossil love to host visitors on fully equipped experiences for both smallmouth and largemouth bass, as well as native steelhead. Trips include breakfast burritos; a hot Dutch oven lunch; guided instruction on a deluxe drift boat; equipment, tackle and lures; and permits. The John Day River is known for its amazing water clarity, basalt formations, rock canyons, rolling hills and abundance of high-desert wildlife (deer, beaver, otters, eagles, ducks, geese, hawks, coyotes and bighorn sheep) — in addition to being one of Oregon’s best spots for smallmouth bass. 

white clouds over calm lake
Henry Hagg Lake in Gaston is a premier spot for bass fishing as well as paddling, boating, picnicking and biking in the summer months. Courtesy of Paul Loofburrow / Visit Tualatin Valley

Record Smallmouth in the Portland Area

Not far from Portland, Forest Grove is home to Henry Hagg Lake, which not only hosts some excellent largemouth bass fishing but also holds the state record for smallmouth bass, a monster weighing in at just over 8 pounds for a species that rarely exceeds 7. (Largemouth are generally a bit larger than smallmouth, which rarely top 2 feet long.) The arms of Scoggins and Tanner creeks in the upper lake and Sain Creek on the west end near boat ramp C are where bass tend to congregate and stage for their spring spawn.

Drifting Along in Southern Oregon

The lower Umpqua River offers a unique smallmouth bass fishery with an abundance of fish in a river that moves at a different pace, better suited for drift boats and pontoons during the summer. If you’re looking for a chance to catch (and release) 100 fish in a single day, this is the place to do it. Booking a trip with a guide is a great way to enjoy a family outing with minimal preparation and gear. Elkton native Jody Smith runs trips out of his hometown, where a majority of the smallmouth congregate in the river. Also in Elkton, Big K Outfitters offers lodging as well as guided smallmouth trips in comfortable scout or drift boats, depending on the season.

fishing dock against sunset sky
Prineville Reservoir State Park is a fantastic spot for bass fishing and camping - make sure to stay the night and enjoy the Dark Sky-designated starry skies. Courtesy of Dawn Davis / OSP

Reservoirs, Rivers and Guides in Central Oregon

For anglers who want to target trophy Oregon largemouth bass in an exclusively fly-fishing-only environment, Davis Lake in the Deschutes National Forest offers serene contemplation and views of the Cascades. The lake’s Crane Prairie Reservoir holds a population of largemouth that can be found in the standing timber along the shallow flats in spring. In addition to RV parking and cool lodging like yurts, Crane Prairie Resort offers several kinds of boat rentals if you’ve got your own gear. Nearby Crane Prairie Campground is also an affordable place to stay. Prineville Reservoir State Park — which, like Crane Prairie, is about an hour or so from Bend — is worth a stop for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Make sure to camp out and enjoy the official Dark Sky-designated starry skies. Need a little guidance? Stillwater Fly Shop in Sunriver is a great resource for anglers who want to target bass. 

Leaping Smallmouth in the Columbia River Gorge

From Portland to McNary Dam in Umatilla, the 191-mile-long stretch of the Columbia River has been listed by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society as one of the nation’s top 100 fisheries for the past decade. Catch rates can top 40 fish a day, and the acrobatic Columbia River smallmouth put up a great fight on the line, making reeling them in fun and a bit of a challenge. From April to October, All About Adventure Excursions offers trips on the Columbia in a fully outfitted, high-performance bass boat with high-tech electronics, top-of-the-line gear and tackle. Owner Edward Chin knows where the fish are running near marinas in Hood River, Boardman, The Dalles and Cascade Locks. The team also offers largemouth excursions in a variety of locations.

If You Go:

  • Always check the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for license and regulation updates, as well as free days and fishing clinics. 
  • Both the ODFW Recreation Report and ORBass.com are great resources for checking the water conditions for popular Oregon bass fisheries before you travel. If you’re interested in joining a bass club and competing in tournaments, the latter publishes a master schedule of events.
  • A small spinning rod suitable for trout — try Bi-Mart or Fisherman’s Marine if you need one — will work fine for just about any bass fishery. Having some heavier gear to toss spinnerbaits, crankbaits and swimbaits to target larger fish doesn’t hurt either. 
  • In rivers, bass like slow-moving water; look for areas with cover where fish can hide. As for lakes, largemouth and smallmouth like the water near the edges in spring and summer, so fishing from the shore is ideal.

About The

Randall Bonner
Randall Bonner is a Corvallis-based writer who covers outdoor recreation, wildlife conservation, agritourism and wild foods. A member of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association, his work has appeared in Northwest Sportsman Magazine, Salmon Trout Steelheader, Salmon and Steelhead Journal, Alaska Sporting Journal, and Visit Corvallis, among others.

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