A Diamond in The Rough: Oregon’s Gem of The Cascades

We are anchored in a quiet little cove, watching the tips of our rods. Two fat rainbows–of about two pounds–tucked away in the cooler.

We continue to soak up the double images of Mt. Bailey. The tranquil surface of the lake becomes a giant mirror reflecting the snow-covered mountain in the background.

A booming blast–far off in the distance–shatters the silence.

“Wow! Must have blown off half of a mountain with that charge,” Paul whispers.

We learn an hour later, that half mountain was Mount St. Helens. It was May 18, 1980. We were fishing Diamond Lake, deep in the Oregon Cascades, more than 350 miles from St. Helens! Diamond Lake lies near the junction of Oregon Hwy 138 and Hwy 230, about 134 miles southeast of Eugene, Ore., and five miles north of Crater Lake National Park.

The Present
Today is my first time back to Diamond Lake since that historic blast. Another wow is in order.

What a change from what I remember. At Diamond Lake Resort there is now a state of the art marina and docks, and a well-maintained fleet of aluminum boats and motors. Guided fishing trips are now offered by Diamond Lake Charters.

Mt. Thielsen towers above Diamond Lake.
Mt. Thielsen towers above Diamond Lake.

The original motel is still open, but they now offer a wide range of accommodations from Rustic Vintage Cabins to a beautiful Lakefront Retreat Center that sleeps up to 20.

About The Lake
Diamond Lake is a natural body of water in the heart of Oregon’s Southern Cascade Mountains. It is cradled between 9,184-foot Mt. Thielsen and 8,363-foot Mt. Bailey. Both are typically capped with snow through the summer. The lake covers 2,824 acres, is 52.5 feet at the deepest point, and the average temperature is 65 degrees. There is a 13-mile paved road around the lake. All boat ramps are paved and there is a speed limit on the lake of 10 mph. Bank fishing can be productive along trails.

There is a fully stocked marina with fishing supplies, and 16- and 18-foot aluminum boats and four-stroke motors for rent.

Facilities have changed, but chunky rainbows are still there in good numbers. A diet of aquatic insects produces fat, pink-meated rainbows that bring anglers back year-after-year.

Last season produced a 12-plus-pound trout and lots of 4 and 5 pounders.

The daily limit is eight, of which one can be 20 inches or more. By June of this year, several 4-pounders had been checked in at the marina. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Department says there are 250,000 rainbows in the lake.

Like in fishing, sometimes in writing you have to have some luck.

In planning for a couple of articles on fishing Diamond Lake, I make the necessary phone calls to set up interviews with local experts for the articles.

My wife and I make the 200-mile drive to get there, but our resources go south. We are pretty disappointed. We drive all those miles, and then find out our expected resources were not available.

We decided to enjoy the beautiful view and dinner in the dining room.

As we walk across the coffee shop, we see two guys communicating in American Sign Language. Here are two guys I haven’t seen in years!

Larry Jackson with a Diamond Lake rainbow.
Larry Jackson with a Diamond Lake rainbow.

Don Burks, now of Vancouver, Wash., has fished Diamond Lake for years. His family would even come up here ice fishing.

“I grew up fishing this lake,” he said, with a grin, and big wink. “I caught seven today. He only got one.” Both agree it had been a slow day.

“I don’t remember when I started coming up here,” Mike Morton, of Springfield, Ore., adds. “I come several times a year.”

They are pre-fishing for a club for the deaf tournament coming up in two days.

“I want to have a honey-hole located,” Morton explains with a wide grin, flashing through a mass of red beard. “I won it last year on the last day, with an 18½-incher. Won it the year before. too.”

Just like that, I have a couple of guys that know how to catch the famous rainbows of Diamond Lake.

More Resources
Back home, more “luck” comes my way. I make a dumb, $1,000 mistake backing out of the driveway. I take my car to the body shop for repair, start talking fishing with one of the owners, Larry Jackson, of Keizer, Ore. Guess what? It turns out he has fished Diamond Lake for years, and Lady Luck has smiled on me! I now have access to fishing information I need to do my work.

Jackson grew up fishing Diamond Lake.

“I think I was 8 years old when we started fishing there,” he explains. “We would sleep in tents and rent boats.”

When Jackson had sons of his own, he wanted them to enjoy fishing Diamond Lake as he had done. In 1989 he started going back.

How to Catch Them
“In the early days we caught most of our fish trolling,” Jackson explains. “We had our best luck with little brass lures. Most of the time we used Triple Teasers. If brass didn’t produce, we would switch to blue.”

“I like to troll Ford Fenders with a nice, fat, juicy worm behind it,” Morton adds. “You need to troll really slow.”

Today, the majority of boaters anchor up and bait fish. Berkley PowerBait is the No. 1 seller at the marina.

“I like to use miniature marshmallows. They float nicely off the bottom,” Jackson explains. “You have to have your bait off the bottom. That’s why PowerBait is so successful. I like to use night crawlers, too.”

Doc Sheldon flasher and trout lures.
A Doc Sheldon flasher and trout lures.

Morton and Burks like floating bait off the bottom also. Over the years they have learned a number of “honey holes” that produce for them.

“We anchor up at about 40 feet,” Morton adds. “We like to float Power Bait 2- to 3 feet off the bottom.”

Proper anchoring is important in bait fishing off the bottom. The boat has to be stationary to feel the subtle bite of trout. To keep your sinker in place, two anchors can be deployed to keep the boat from swinging in the wind.

The season opens the fourth Saturday in April and closes October 31. There is no longer ice fishing on the lake.

Diamond Lake also hosts the annual Black Bird $5,000 Tournament, which was held this year in late June. From photos in the lodge, there were so many anglers it looks like you could walk across the lake on boats!

How about this for a great day? Catch an early morning limit of eight chunky rainbows, then, drive seven miles to enjoy Crater Lake, one of the most scenic National Parks in the country.

That is all possible at Oregon’s Diamond in the Rough!

For more information on fishing Diamond Lake click here!

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Top Photo: Rental boats with Mt. Bailey in the background.


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