Under normal circumstances, late winter and early spring are “the time” to catch trophy size rainbow trout in Haystack Reservoir.
However, in October 2022, the North Unit Irrigation District had to drain the reservoir in order to repair control gates deep inside the dam.
Repairs were completed in January 2023 and the reservoir began slowly refilling.
When we visited Haystack in February, the reservoir was about 1/4 full.
“A couple of weeks ago, we began diverting water from our diversion there in Bend to begin the process of refilling,” said Josh Bailey, North Unit Irrigation District general manager. “We shut down after a week for our sister district COID to do a stock run for their patrons. They are now off. We hope to be turning back on in the near future but due to the storm coming in and freezing conditions, we are protecting our infrastructure. So, we are holding off until weather permits.”
Most of the trout, kokanee, bass, crappie and brown bullhead catfish were drawn out when the reservoir was drained.
A few may have survived in an isolated pool near the dam but not enough to restart this popular fishery in a reasonable timeframe.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife plans to restock legal size rainbow trout in Haystack in April.
However, releases of big brood trout that attracts anglers from miles around aren’t scheduled to resume until 2024, so that fishery will not happen in Haystack this year.
“Even though we are in the throes of a mega drought, this is the first time ever we had to drain Haystack Reservoir,” Bailey said. It’s also the “first time ever, at least in my knowledge, that we had to divert water in the wintertime to refill the reservoir.”
Normal winter closures of the three campgrounds around the reservoir allow maintenance and upgrades of these popular facilities.
Some people took advantage of the drawdown to scour the lakebed for lost fishing tackle.
These two found a dozen fishing rods and hundreds of lures.
“Haystack is what we call a re-regulating reservoir. Our primary source of water comes out of Wickiup Reservoir above La Pine. When we need water, we release it from Wickiup into the Deschutes River. We pick it up from our diversion in Bend and from there the water travels 43 miles to get here. It takes about three days to get water from Wickiup to Haystack. From this point, we distribute it to the rest of our patrons,” Bailey explained.
Haystack Reservoir should be nearly full by April but until then the boat ramps are closed and most fishing spots that anglers remember are high and dry.
“I find the points on the beach, and I move out. If I have waders, I move out into the open water. Then I start casting this way, and I move in a fan. If I don’t catch anything, I’ll go a little deeper,” said Richard MaGee, an angler we interviewed in March 2021 while fishing in Haystack Reservoir. “I’ll move down the shore a little and then go deeper. Usually, you end up catching some. It’s so much fun. I enjoy it.”
If the old saying that even a slow day of fishing is better than the best day working holds true, then get ready anglers for the gradual return of Haystack Reservoir.