Southern Oregon is a remarkable destination if you need larger-than-life, wild rainbow trout in your world. Many places claim large native trout; not all can deliver the goods. But the Klamath Basin lives up to its reputation. Located in south central Oregon, the Basin and its ecosystem is unique, providing the perfect environment for native Klamath Basin redband trout to thrive in monster proportions and to dominate the water ways.
The Klamath Basin is located north of Klamath Falls and east of the Cascade Mountain Range. This system is a large, shallow lake with a variety of cold-water springs that are critical to the livelihood of fish. The upper Klamath Basin was once filled with ancient Lake Modoc, which drained when its outlet cut a channel to the Pacific Ocean via the Klamath River. Today, Upper Klamath Lake and Agency Lakes are all that remain of Lake Modoc.
Unlike with the other interior redband populations, the Klamath Basin population has been able to maintain regular use of the lacustrine environment since the last glacial epoch. That said, this special area maintains the largest and most functional adfluvial redband population of any of the interior basins.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife report here, there are two genetically distinct groups of redbands native to the upper Klamath basin, with one that is adapted to lakes and the other to streams. These two groups use different parts of the basin for spawning habitat and have been able to avoid hybridization with each other. Though they commonly call the lake home, redbands stray from their familiar waters, motivated both by temperature and the annual spawning drive to find fresher, cooler waters.
Whether in a float-tube or a boat, the educated angler will have a thermometer available to gauge the temperature of the waters, seeking out the colder areas in the vast expanse of Upper Klamath Lake. For those fish more inclined to seek the spring-fed rivers and creeks, the Williamson and the Wood rivers offer trout a palatial summer home.
If you like the Stillwater Approach, you will find plenty of flat water to explore. At the root of things, the big guys are lake fish. Strip some streamer flies or stack some flies under your bobber and do the bobber stare. If moving water is more to your liking, then chase them in the rivers and creeks. Adding rocks and ledges will make for a frustrating yet rewarding experience when you hook up. The Cascade Mountain Range offers a stunning backdrop for fishing the Upper Klamath Basin.
It will take some time, effort and a bit of driving to reach this fairly remote destination. Fortunately, the Basin benefits from a lack of proximity to major metro areas. It is just far enough inside the Oregon border to not be California. Although some question that a fly fisherman’s super long drifts and presentations might cross over the state line, requiring a California fishing license, keep to your cast and you will surely stay in Oregon!
Klamath Basin redbands are not your everyday fish, and the Klamath Basin is not your everyday trout location. Take the time to explore southern Oregon for its spectacular angling opportunities; The result will be a wealth of memories to last a lifetime. If you seek the biggest native rainbow trout in the lower 48 states, you’ll find them here and nowhere else. Get out there!
Arian grew up in the foothills between Yosemite and Tahoe and has always been spoiled by the awesomeness of the outdoors. Finding his passion for photography fresh out of high school, Arian quickly found a way to share the beauty of his surroundings with others, and so much the better if there happened to be someone fishing in the image. Combining his two passions of fishing and photography, Arian has made a name for himself among anglers and nature lovers alike. His work has been featured by many companies and publications including: Winston Rod Company, Patagonia, Fishpond, Simms, Korkers, Adventure Journal, The Drake Magazine, The Flyfish Journal, Orvis, Merrell Shoes, Breedlove Guitars, Galvan Fly Reels, Deschutes Brewery, Silvermoon Brewing, Simply Baked, Northwest Flyfishing Magazine, Anglers Journal, Trout, Bend Fly Shop, Direct Adventures, Renton River Adventures, Scientific Anglers, Field and Stream, 1859 Magazine, Bend Magazine, Catch Magazine, This is Fly, Travel Oregon and American Angler.