Trout Fishing on Lake Simtustus By Gary Lewis
One of Central Oregon's most reliable spring and summer fisheries.
One casting rod was armed with a flasher, trailed by a Wedding Ring spinner, and the other had a small, pink hoochie on a 10-inch leader. We like to fish one conventional tackle rod along with fly rod (Dad and I each have two-rod licenses). Our fly rods were 5-weights with sink tips.
On the fly rod, Dad's favorite setup is a No. 8 rubber-legged beadhead olive (or white) leech with 18 inches of fluorocarbon knotted to the bend of the hook, trailing a beadhead Flashback Prince Nymph.
I like to start with a small, white/pink Mack's Lure Smile Blade Fly. A casting rod and a fly rod were our primary tools, but I also kept a spinning rod close at hand. This time, I had a Trout Wizard spinnerbait on it.
Lake Simtustus, located seven miles west of Madras, is a deep, cold, and narrow ribbon of water formed by Pelton Dam, backing up to Round Butte Dam below Lake Billy Chinook. It is on the Deschutes River, in Central Oregon. Lake Billy Chinook is far and away more popular than Simtustus, and that's a good thing. The reservoir was named after a Warm Springs warrior who served as an Army scout in the Paiute wars of the 1860’s, and lived on the Warm Springs Reservation until his death in 1926.
To fish Simtustus, an angler must not only have an Oregon fishing license, but also a Warm Springs Reservation tribal fishing permit. Every year it costs me an extra $50 to fish Simtustus, and that keeps all but a few regulars away.
For our first trip of the year on the first day of May, we had our friend Jon Guenther with us. We launched at nine in the morning - Dad with his hand on the 40-horse Merc - idling out of the no-wake zone.
My dad fishes Simtustus up to a dozen times each year in his black Smokercraft and we even fish it from the bank sometimes. But we have our favorite trolling area and patterns. We headed up the lake and switched over to the bow-mounted trolling motor. Dad put out both rods while I trolled a fly. Close to shore, trolling upstream we got bit fast, but it was hard to get the hooks set.
Running the motor with the remote control, I crossed the channel and took the boat up the right bank, and then we turned and trolled back downstream. There, we hooked and landed our first fish. The trout was about 13 inches, healthy and athletic. Strikes were hard, but it was difficult to hook them and the fish were not coming fast. I pointed the bow back upstream into the Narrows, where the near vertical canyon walls come together. Spring rainfall had fed the waterfalls, and numerous cascades were streaming from seams in the sheer rock.
As we came up to a spot where three waterfalls splashed in, I traded the fly rod for the spinner and aimed a cast beneath the lower waterfall. I pulled the black Trout Wizard spinner along the ledge. Boom! I had my first fish in the boat.
After that, it was the white/pink Smile Blade Fly that the fish seemed to want. The trout averaged 13 inches. Dad switched rods and caught his second fish on a pink hoochie and then after that, the fish came fast.
We hunted for them along the banks, zig-zag trolling, watching the electronics, and steering for the splashes. Today, they seemed to want the hoochie tipped with corn. There were bigger fish on the screens, and we contemplated what we might have to do to target the really big fish we knew were there.
Lake Simtustus is one of those places a trout angler could be surprised by what is on the other end of the line. Rainbows, browns, bull trout, smallmouth bass, and pikeminnow can grow large in this lake. And while Simtustus is best fished from a boat, a bank angler that knows how to read the water can catch fish too.
A tribal permit is required to fish Lake Simtustus. These are reasonably priced and can be purchased at online for the day or the entire season. Click on https://fisheries.warmsprings-nsn.gov/fishing-areas/lake-simtustus-area-3/.
Fishing is open year-round. The trout limit is 5 per day, with an 8-inch minimum length, but only 1 of those can measure over 20 inches.
Portland General Electric maintains a hatchery upstream. Instead of the normal hatchery rainbow strain, PGE raises and releases a summer steelhead variety - 25,000 fish each season. If the fish wash downriver, they are free to fulfill their destinies as ocean-going rainbows. Trout tend to spread throughout the reservoir. The best bet is to troll the edges of the banks on either side, but rainbows can be teased up in the middle of the channel too. Steer for the splashes.