EAST LAKE, Ore. -- As soon as we pulled up to the boat ramp, John Garrison noted the coots that crowded the edge of the lake.
The arrival of the dark, ducklike birds marks the coming of fall, according to Garrison, a longtime Central Oregon fishing guide.
"The change in season is upon us," he said.
But one thing that has not changed is the consistent bait fishing on East Lake this summer.
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Garrison powered his 24-foot pontoon away from the Hot Springs boat ramp on a recent morning through thick smoke from regional wildfires. We were headed for an underground mound near the middle of the lake, where fish tend to congregate.
East Lake -- located at 6,381 feet in elevation in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, 37 miles southeast of Bend -- offers a variety of fish to the sport angler: rainbow trout, brown trout, Atlantic salmon and kokanee.
As the cold wind whipped up waves on the lake, Garrison rigged one rod with PowerBait and another with a live dragonfly nymph and a bobber. (A piece of worm and a bobber is also an effective technique on East Lake.)
East Lake has long been a reliable fishery for bait anglers, but it typically undergoes a midsummer slump when high water temperatures drive the trout and salmon down deep.
"East Lake's been good this year," said Garrison, owner of Garrison's Guide Service in Sunriver. "It's not as good as it was, because of the heat. It's cooling down, so the rest of the season should be thumbs up."
The first strike of the day was on the PowerBait. The rod twitched in the holder, and I grabbed it and set the hook. The fish -- a plump 18-inch rainbow trout -- came splashing out of the lake as I reeled it into the boat. Over the first hour of fishing, we landed five rainbows in the 16- to 20-inch range -- colorful, healthy-looking fish that fought with tenacity.
"The rainbows here are getting beautiful," Garrison said. "Very, very nice rainbows."
Fishing boats began to crowd the popular lake as ospreys soared overhead and the wind gained even more intensity, clearing some of the smoke that had hovered above the lake.
We hit a dry spell by midmorning. But Garrison glanced at his fish finder and we knew we were back in business -- the finder showed a huge school of fish directly below the boat. They were most likely Atlantic salmon, as they tend to swim in schools.
Slim, and silver-sided with spots, Atlantic salmon often fight hard beneath the surface, rather than flying out of the water like rainbows often do.
"The Atlantics are nice fish -- good fighters too," Garrison said. "They're big, lean and crazy."
More than 40 feet away from the boat, one of the yellow bobbers stood on end. Garrison yelled and I clutched the rod, reeled the line tight, watched the bobber disappear, then set the hook. I cranked a 16-inch Atlantic salmon to the boat, and we admired its shiny silver coloring.
We had found the Atlantics, and they seemed to want only the dragonfly nymphs. By late morning, the PowerBait was ineffective.
Our bobbers were so active, I began to develop what Garrison calls "bobberitis," an affliction of the easily excitable and anxious angler who thinks he sees movement on the bobber when in fact there is none.
"You have bobberitis," Garrison scolded me. "That's when people start seeing things. I've seen it thousands of times. They see stuff that's just not happening."
But I still managed to land my fair share of fish. We finished the day with eight rainbow trout and four Atlantic salmon, all released back into the lake. We had no luck on brown trout or kokanee, but a dozen fish in four hours made for a memorable day.
East Lake will remain open through Oct. 31, and fall is one of the best times of year to land big brown trout.