Kokanee salmon are more popular these days than Taylor Swift. And hey… they’re abundant, fun to catch, taste great on the grill… what’s not to love? You just need a few basics to get you started… and then you’ll be off and running.
Finding the Fish
The key to successful trolling is, of course, to find the fish. Fortunately, kokanee salmon run in large schools, so they are pretty easy to locate with electronics.
When you’re on an unfamiliar body of water, start your search in the main body of the lake out over the river channel. If that doesn’t pan out, try the face of the dam or off the mouth of a spawning tributary. More often than not, you’ll find kokes in those areas, but don’t ignore deep water humps or large points that extend well out into the main lake.
Being plankton feeders, it’s a bit of a mystery why kokes will hit a lure, but the truth of the matter is they will – often enthusiastically. Some of the most common offerings include small spoons, Hootchies, “Bugs,” and spinners. Due to the popularity of this fishery on the West Coast, most tackle stores now have large kokanee sections. Wander through the koke area and you’ll be blown away by all the different manufacturers and styles of lures they’re producing.
If you need to start with a few basics, try some Uncle Larry’s Spinners, Radical Glow Tubes, Rocky Mountain Tackle UV Hootchies and some Dick Nite, Sep’s or Needlefish spoons.
I also like to make “Squid Spins” which are hootchies with a spinner blade in front. I used to have to build them myself, but now several companies make a similar lure.
My ace in the hole lure – the one to go to when the chips are down is – believe it or not – a bare size No.2 Gamakatsu octopus-style hook (in the red, hot pink or glow finish) trolled closely behind a dodger. I know it sounds crazy, but it works.
At first, it feels a little strange dragging a bare hook all over the lake but a quick couple of fish in the box will help change your tune. And if you need more evidence, take a trip up to Seattle’s Lake Washington when the sea-run sockeye season opens. There will be thousands of boats on the water each day and most, if not all, will be trolling the red hook/dodger rig.
Kokes are drawn to lures of many different colors, though I tend to lean towards hot pink, fluorescent red, fluorescent orange and chartreuse. Glow-in-the-dark finishes are also gaining a huge amount of popularity these days, particularly during low light periods or when the fish are deep.
In any case, it pays to carry quite a few different colors onboard for those days when the fish are feeling a little temperamental.
Dodgers & Flashers
While there are times when you can do well without them, I always begin a day of kokanee fishing by running a small dodger ahead of my lure. Due to the popularity of kokanee trolling, many companies now make small trolling dodgers – Sep’s, Vance’s Tackle, Luhr Jensen and Shasta Tackle to name a few. As a dodger moves through the water, its flashy, side-to-side action will draw fish to your offering. That same motion can also add action to your lure, depending on how long your leader is.
When using a lure that has no action of its own – say a hootchie, bare hook or bug – I’ll keep my lure very close to the dodger. That way, it will pick up some movement from the dodger. I also like to use stiff mono (say 12-pound fluorocarbon) for the leader so that even more action will be imparted to the lure. Make your leader 2.5 times the length of the dodger when using low-action lures. Bump the leader to 4 times the length of your dodger if you’re using active lures like spoons and spinners.
While you can catch plenty of kokanee without scent on your lure, you will certainly tip the odds in your favor by adding a little “stink” to your rig. In kokanee circles, the time-honored approach has been to tip hooks with Green Giant white shoepeg corn. For reasons not totally understood by those of us with brains larger than a splitshot, kokanee seem to have a real sweet tooth for the stuff.
These days, the whole corn thing has been taken to a totally new level. Hard-core koke anglers will often have 3 or 4 different colors of dyed corn on board, along with 15 different scents and combinations thereof. Honestly, it’s getting a little crazy! I think having several different shades and flavors on hand may give you an edge on the really slow days, but I prefer to operate on the keep it simple principle and use my corn “el natural” – though I often like to marinate it in Pautzke’s Kokanee Fuel overnight before I fish.
Many guys have now made the switch from corn to white Berkley GULP maggots… give ‘em a try!
In general, slower is better for kokanee but I have caught them trolling at nearly light speed on days when the wind was howling. As a rule of thumb, keep your speeds in the .5 to 1.5 mph range and you’ll be in business. If you’re willing to sacrifice the number of bites you get for a shot at bigger kokes, troll 2.5 to 3 mph.