Kokanee are a land-locked sockeye salmon. They were originally planted in Western reservoirs in the late 1940’s. Today, the kokanee fisheries are quite active in selected Northern California locations. Kokanee reach adulthood in about 4 years, the same as for other salmon.
They spawn in late summer or fall in lake tributaries. Kokanee can reach a length of 16 to 20 inches or more, but the overcrowding of the species (and resulting need to share a limited food resource) generally results in mature kokanee in the 8 to 14 inch range. Even at this modest size they are a desirable catch because they taste great.
Plankton is the main food source of kokanee, so fishing for them requires an offering that provides color and movement to get their attention. They are a school fish, so once one is located, the chances of catching more kokanee are good.
How to Catch Kokanee
The almost universal technique to catch kokanee is trolling. Like other salmon, kokanee prefer cold water (about 50f, in fact). This means that when a lake is stratified the kokanee are down deep. However, in spring and late fall, kokanee can be trolled for near the surface.
The approaches used for kokanee trolling have much more in common with lake trolling for trout. In fact, identical equipment and rigging is used. Lake trolling is described in detail in the Trout (in Lakes) post. Rather than repeating all of this information here are some highlights of the few differences and the key points to success.
- The most popular lures are nickel/red head, fire/pearl, rainbow and pearl/red head. Small spoons are most popular; Needlefish and Super-duper, size #1. A Wedding Ring lure tipped with corn is also great.
- In very cold, clear water it is possible to troll near the surface.
- However, kokanee are down more than 10 feet (the usual situation).
- A rubber snubber is necessary because kokanee have soft, delicate mouths. The snubber absorbs the shock of the strike.
- A diving plane or lead core line can be trolled down to about 40 ft. Downriggers are well suited to kokanee trolling at 20 to 40 feet or even deeper.
- Use the same trolling techniques as used for trout; troll slow, work in an S pattern and vary your speed often.
- An electronic fish finder can locate the school of kokanee and tell you what depth to troll.
- Many kokanee anglers add a single kernel of white corn, a small pinch of worm, a salmon egg, or a short piece of red or white yarn to the hook of their lure. Try it if action is slow.
Where to Fish for Kokanee
Lake Tahoe, Donner and Bullards Bar can produce kokanee in the 14 to 20 inch size bracket. mature, smaller fish (8 to 12) are the rule in lakes like Whiskeytown, Pardee, Bucks, Ice House, Camanche, Echo and Stampede.
Cleaning and Cooking Kokanee
Most anglers clean and prepare kokanee the same as they would smaller trout – see the Trout (in streams) post. Kokanee have a very mild, salmon-type meat.