Applegate Lake is fairly easy to understand. Often called Applegate reservoir, it sits at the southern end of the Applegate River. What’s more curious is how this remote southwest Oregon lake, created in 1980 as a flood control project, now boasts so many healthy fish populations that call its waters home. The reservoir, located just north of the California border, is rich with smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and crappie, and regularly stocked with rainbow trout and Chinook salmon.
The landscape could factor; the shoreline around Applegate can be steep, which makes bank access tough. However, you can launch a kayak at the boat ramps, or cast a line from the ramps or the mouths of the creeks that feed the river. If you’re fishing for trout from the bank, you might have better luck with nightcrawlers or other bait. If you’re trolling, try worms and/or Wedding Ring Spinners. For bass, go with a more standard bass lure.
If you’re not sure what kind of bait or flies to use, you can always stop by the Public Lands store in Medford and ask their fishing concierge for recommendations. You can also call the U.S. Army Corps Applegate Reservoir information line at 1-800-472-2434 for news on water levels, surface temperatures, and the latest stocking dates.
While the reservoir offers plenty to keep busy, the Applegate River isn’t to be overlooked: Between mid-February and March, it’s often slammed with legendary runs of winter steelhead. The section north of the dam is tumultuous with rapids (and almost entirely lined with public land), but there are several floatable sections upstream of Murphy. You can also fish the river from Fish Hatchery County Park, which sits between New Hope and Wilderville. Bring nymphs when the water level is low, and colorful egg patterns for opaque water or more turbid conditions.
Note: While the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife prohibits casting from a boat on the Applegate River, you can use a canoe or kayak to float from bank to bank. (Just be mindful to avoid private land, and have a buddy or a shuttle lined up to grab you at your takeout.)