Chasing rainbows in the fog on Oregon’s Crane Prairie Reservoir

We could see maybe 20 feet in front of us as our boat motored slowly away from the Rock Creek boat ramp on Crane Prairie Reservoir.

A thick fog had eerily shrouded the area, and I half expected a huge pirate ship to emerge from the gloom.

“I have no clue where we are,” said fishing guide John Garrison. “We’re going into the abyss. What if it clears up and we’re on Wickiup (Reservoir)?”

Even the coots appeared confused as they skittered out of the way of the 22-foot pontoon boat. The fog got thicker and thicker as we eased away from the shore.

I accessed the compass on my iPhone so Garrison could at least know the direction we were heading. He finally decided to just stop and drop the anchors so we could get to fishing. In 30 years of guiding on Central Oregon lakes, he said, he had never seen fog like this.

Fishing in October on the Cascade lakes can be rewarding, but the weather can be iffy. So looking at the weather forecast of sunshine and temperatures in the 60s, I had been excited for a day on Crane Prairie.

That excitement was tempered as we shivered in the fog and frigid cold.

But just a few minutes after stopping to fish without really knowing our location on the lake, one of the rods twitched and bent, and I picked it up. I reeled in a nice 18-inch rainbow trout, hooked on PowerBait.

“What a great spot I found!” Garrison joked as he released the fish back into the lake.

Finally, the grayness was punctured by flecks of blue sky, and we could make out trees and hills along the shore. Garrison decided to head to the mouth of the Quinn River channel, where he had originally planned to fish. I picked up another rod with PowerBait on the line and began to reel, and soon I realized I had another rainbow hooked.

We had a hunch that the fog had something to do with the water temperature being 57 degrees and the air temperature being 32 degrees. Later, a quick search on the National Weather Service website confirmed that it was steam fog: “Steam fog forms when cold air moves over warm water. When the cool air mixes with the warm moist air over the water, the moist air cools until its humidity reaches 100 percent and fog forms. This type of fog takes on the appearance of wisps of smoke rising off the surface of the water.”

Sure enough, as the fog began to break up on Crane Prairie, those wispy clouds hung near the water’s surface.

By 10:15 a.m., barely an hour after we had launched, the cold gray morning had turned into a bright sunny day. By 10:45, the fishing was hot and heavy near the mouth of the channel, where trees protruded from the water’s surface and coots formed a line across the reservoir.

The fourth fish of the day was a monster, measuring about 20 inches and pushing 3 pounds. After setting the hook, I thought I had lost the trout, because the line went slack.

“Never stop (reeling) because he could be coming at you,” Garrison advised.

I battled the fish for a while, and it took line aggressively as I let it run several times.

The sixth fish was the first one we landed on something other than PowerBait, getting it to the boat after hooking it with a worm-and-bobber setup. We also used dragonfly nymphs with bobbers.

Rainbow trout are stocked in Crane Prairie Reservoir each spring, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The largest rainbows there can grow up to 19 pounds, and most range between 14 and 18 inches long. Brook trout also make Crane Prairie their home, and most measure between 10 and 14 inches. The five-trout daily limit on Crane includes only one non-fin-clipped rainbow and one rainbow longer than 16 inches.

Part of finding success fishing the high lakes in October is first finding a place to launch a boat. This time of year, Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs are at their lowest water levels. As of last week on Crane Prairie, the boat ramps at Rock Creek and Browns Mountain (near the dam) and the Crane Prairie boat ramp (near the resort) all seemed manageable for launching a boat. All the fish-cleaning stations are closed, so anglers will have to clean at home any fish they keep.

By the end of our day on Crane Prairie, Garrison and I had caught and released 10 hefty rainbows, ranging from 15-20 inches in length.

“That’s a good day in the middle of summer,” Garrison said. “October is pretty good.”

It’s even better when you can see exactly where you are fishing.