Nature Notes

Volume XXI - 1955

Fishing At Crater Lake National Park
By Joseph C. Hunt, Seasonal Ranger
Photos by C. Warren Fairbanks


Many park visitors are interested in the fishing conditions here in Crater Lake National Park. In most cases, fishing is limited. For example, the streams are very hard to reach. Annie Creek and Castle Creek are cut into steep canyons with sheer walls. Brush is also a handicap to the fisherman. Sand Creek at the East Entrance, where the pinnacles are located, is a prime example of stream conditions; this stream can be seen from the highway.

Small rainbow trout, Salmo gairdneri irideus Gibbons, and eastern brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis (Mitchill) are abundant in the streams. The size of the trout caught in these streams averages about eight inches. One of the reasons for the smallness of the trout is that the snow pack is very deep in these canyons, reducing the food supply by covering the streams. From late in July until September, these streams are usually free from snow.

Bait fishing is a good standby that brings fine results. Fly fishing is almost useless because of the brush cover in the area. Spin fishing is difficult, the streams being too small.

If the hardy fisherman can overcome these handicaps, however, he should be able to catch his limit of ten fish in these beautiful mountain brooks.


Crater Lake, in addition to being one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and, according to some, one of the seven natural wonders of the earth, is also one of the most interesting as far as angling is concerned.

There are two main types of fish in the lake. The first is the landlocked red, sockeye, or kokanee salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka kennerlyi (Suckley), which I do not consider to be a good type of fish for this lake. They do not grow very large, and, as far as angling is concerned, I can not consider them game fish. These fish range between nine and thirteen inches in length. Very seldom is a fish caught that is larger or smaller. They are small in body structure and weigh little for their size.

sockeye salmon
Sockeye salmon from Crater Lake

The rainbow trout, Salmo gairdneri irideus Gibbons, in Crater Lake, however, is a much different fish in comparison with the salmon. This fish grows large and is a vicious fighter. Like most lakes that fishermen enjoy, Crater Lake could be one of their favorites if they understood the habits of the rainbow trout in this lake. The park visitor who fishes in the lake is usually not familiar with the habits of these trout. Therefore, many draw a wrong conclusion about the great fishing that Crater Lake offers.

The length of the rainbow ranges between fifteen and one-half and twenty-three inches, the average measuring nineteen inches and weighing about three pounds. These fish are deep feeders, the reason being that the summer is so short that surface feeding for bugs is limited. Some say the water is so clear that, in order to escape the rays of the sun, they have to seek shelter in deep water or under overhanging rocks.

Trolling at around seventy feet deep produces fine results; however, it is not great sport because of the weight of the spoons and sinkers. Spin fishing is the sport in the lake. With a light spinning rod and a light-test line, using a quarter-ounce lure, a fisherman will have a wonderful time on the lake; but along with all this, he will have many heartaches.

rainbow trout
23-3/4-inch rainbow trout taken from Crater Lake in August, 1954

The mouths of the trout are very soft. Once hooked, these fish break water and in two or three jumps are usually free. The fisherman can expect to land one of every five that he hooks. There have been many stories which attempt to explain their tearing loose so easily. One possible suggestion is that the lack of minerals in the water has a weakening effect on the cartilage of their mouths. As a sidelight, let me describe one of the strangest things about the rainbow trout in Crater Lake. Once free, after breaking loose from the hook, they continue to jump and break water, sometimes three feet into the air. They may do this five or six times. An explanation for this might be that their mouths are so soft that, having been torn by the hook, they are actually in pain.

Very seldom does a fisherman catch a large rainbow on a flyrod using artificial flies. Using a fly road limits one in the length of cast. Also, the fish sees the movement through the clear water and will not strike. Anglers have spent days on the lake without seeing a fish rise for a live bug or fly. This seems strange for a lake that has been stocked many years with rainbow trout.

Unless certain problems are solved in the future, good fishing in the lake may cease. Crater Lake can not stand heavy fishing; the fish do not reproduce in quantity. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that lack of food is not the handicap to reproduction in this lake. There are many types of underwater life for the fish to feed on.

The grave problem is the absence of adequate spawning grounds. There are no known inlets or outlets to Crater Lake, providing an unfavorable situation for spawning trout. They must, therefore, find nesting grounds in the lake. There are located around its edges a few sandy beaches that otherwise would be ideal, but the wind creates such choppy water that the roe would be washed away. The light pumicesand also shifts around in the water. The spawner probably lays her eggs in the holes and cracks of the steep walls around the shores of the lake. This is not an ideal situation, because the eggs have little protection from other fish. When the eggs have hatched, the fingerlings fall prey to their own cannibalistic kind; apparently few escape this fate. If the fish that do escape and reach maturity are caught by the angler, then the supply may be exhausted.

Crater Lake view
Looking toward Mt. Scott from Sinnott Memorial
From Kodachrome by Welles & Welles

Views From Sinnott Memorial
By Willis G. Downing, Ranger Naturalist

If the name Sinnott Memorial is mentioned, most park visitors and employees think at once of the excellent views of Crater Lake to be had from that point and of the art and photograph exhibits in the room behind the lookout platform. This, of course, is the reason for the existence of this observation post. It is there to enable all who visit Crater Lake to better appreciate its meaning -- scientific, scenic, and aesthetic.

To the ranger naturalists who stand duty there, the lake and the wall around it are of continual interest. The lake is never the same. Even if it were, no single viewing of Crater Lake would impart complete understanding to the viewer.

Some of the questions that visitors ask at Sinnott Memorial are about the area just below and around this observation point. Many interesting and sometimes unusual observations of mammal and bird life have been made from Sinnott Memorial; for example, the viewing of swimming eagles on different occasions by Dr. George C. Ruhle (Farner, 1952) and Ranger Naturalist John Mees (1954). I have enjoyed watching some of the more usual antics and habits of the smaller mammals around Sinnott Memorial. Any one of the smaller animals in that vicinity can be an absorbing study in itself.

The golden-mantled ground squirrels are very much in evidence all during the day. I have often marveled at their lack of appreciation of the approximately 900-foot drop to the lake surface from Sinnott Memorial. I have seen them scamper along the stone wall at the edge of Sinnott Memorial and take a flying leap into midair. They invariably land on some small crag of rock along the steep outer wall. Then they will jump from one small outjutting to another until they reach the more level ground west of Sinnott Memorial.

They leap, too, from rock to rock along the slide area east of this observation post. Now and then one golden-mantled ground squirrel will chase another away from some source of food. In the process of rapid movement, he will dislodge a rock, and a rock slide begins. At the beginning of the summer season, streams from melting snow caused larger rocks to roll down this slope. When the snow disappears, minor erosion continues as ground squirrels and an occasional marmot dislodge smaller rocks from the slopes.

Like the ground squirrels, the marmots have no fear of the drop to the lake surface. They do not jump from rock to rock as do the squirrels, but scamper up the steep slide area east of Sinnott Memorial. They seem startled when their movements start the rolling of a rock downhill. Marmots are also agile in their movements on rocks. They often climb and lie upon rocks a hundred feet or so below Sinnott Memorial.

One of my rarer views of a marmot in action was obtained on the grassy slope just west of the walk leading down to Sinnott Memorial. Ranger Naturalist Edward Burnham first noticed a young marmot nibbling at the head of a sedge. The marmots along the rim usually avoid approaching humans. This one seemed an exception. He continued working his way up the slope, standing, grabbing stalks of sedge in his two front paws, and eating the seeds. Many visitors photographed this unusual sight as the marmot approached within two or three feet of the wall beside the walk.

To the interested observer, the slopes, slides, and rocks around Sinnott Memorial can provide surprising discoveries about the habits and ventures of golden-mantled ground squirrels, marmots, and other small mammals that live thereabouts.

Literature Cited

Farner, Donald S. 1952. The Birds of Crater Lake National Park. Lawrence, University of Kansas Press. xi, 187 pp.

Mees, John. 1954. Unusual eagle experiences. Nature Notes from Crater Lake 20:5-6.

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