By Mike Carey
Finding and fishing new kokanee waters is a passion of mine and I have been blessed over the years to fish some of Washington States great kokanee lakes. For me, it's more about the adventure of finding and exploring new places than it is catching the biggest or the most fish. I guess I've caught enough fish in my life that the journey is more important than the prize. With that in mind, I was thrilled to here that Northwest Fishing Reports would be traveling to south Idaho to fish and film at one of Idaho's premier reservoirs, Anderson Ranch. A little internet research revealed an Idaho gem for kokanee fishing, with the opportunity to catch both numbers and size, surrounded by beautiful and secluded scenery. (I know I just said size and numbers aren't my primary goal, but it never hurts to throw those into the mix!)
Anderson Ranch Reservoir is located in south-central Idaho, 70 miles due east of Boise and about an hour and a quarter drive. The reservoir is in the surrounded by undeveloped private land, with rocky cliffs, and sparcely wooded hills. Formed by Anderson dam, the reservoir runs four miles long and is 4,600 acres in size. Access to the miles of shoreline is limited du to the private land, and there are two boat launch is located on the reservoir. The launch by the dam has concrete lanes with docks and ample parking. Camping opportunities are limited. Species of fish you'll find include kokanee, rainbow and bull trout, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, mountain whitefish, and the occasional Chinook salmon. Anderson Ranch is stocked annually with kokanee. In 2018 it received 173,760 kokanee and currently has a generous 25 fish limit. John said to expect that number to go down in the future.
I arrived in Boise and met up with Rob Holman of NWFR. We would be fishing with an All-Star crew made up of Dean Teegarden of Wigglefin Tackle, Toby Wyatt, guide and owner of Reel Time Fishing, and John Christianson, former guide and local kokanee expert angler. The three of them were well acquainted with Anderson Ranch and if there were willing fish to be had they would be able to find and entice them to bite (something that can be a challenge when it comes to kokanee fishing!).
Late winter kokanee fishing on any body of water can be challenging. With colder waters kokanee can be sluggish and less aggressive. The techniques and strategies that work well in summer and fall may not work at all in March. The successful angler needs to adjust their approach and work to determine what winter kokanee want. That said, it is possible to do quite well fishing for kokanee in the winter, as many anglers have learned. It just takes a willingness to change up your approach to these silver bullets.
Meeting up with Toby we hit the road bright and early. Our goal was to launch at first light and get our lines out and running early. Toby was confident we would find fish and with any luck get into some quality fish. Anderson Ranch Reservoir is an hour and a quarter east of Boise. The curving roadway to the reservoir opens up to ever more interesting and scenic over-views, until you arrive at your destination.
With five anglers, and two pole rod endorsements, we had the potential to run a lot of gear in order to find what the fish wanted. Having the owner of Wigglefin Tackle as one of our expert guides meant of course that we would be running his products. That was OK by me as I have had outstanding success for kokanee and trout using wiggle fin discs and the swarm flasher system. This year, Dean came out with a new directional dodger, the HellRazor Dart. The premise of this dodger was unique and full of potential. With multiple adjusts, the dodger has the ability to run either roll, dodge, or dart. The shape of Dean's HellRazor dodger is sleek and streamline. It also comes in two sizes, giving an angler the option of running larger gear, or smaller, finesse presentations. I love that option of going small for kokanee. Some of my best catches have been using micro flies from Arctic Fox Trolling Flies. I brought a box of Arctic Fox Trolling Flies specifically to pair up with Dean's new dodgers.
We slipped the boat into the water and ran up to our first location, the far end of the reservoir. John noted "this spot can be very productive, we'll give it a try here first and see what we find. . Like any kokanee fishery, there are years when the fish are bigger with less numbers, and vice versa. The last couple years Anderson Ranch has been putting out solid fish in the 14-20 "range. I'm hoping we can get into some of the big ones today." The reservoir does not freeze over normally, but this end of the lake we fished up against an iced bay, telling us just how cold the water was.
We were fishing out of John's 26 foot fiberglass cuddy so we were warm and comfortable. John has his boat set up as a planner board trolling machine, capable of easily running a dozen rods off the planner boards, and a couple more off down-riggers. The planner board set up John developed is truly a site to behold, with four foot planner boards and powered retrieval system. Dean set up the rods while John and Toby started deploying them off the planner board line, running each rig out around 120 feet with one and a half ounces of lead. The set ups each had a piece of tuna-soaked corn to entice the kokanee further. Our trolling speed was around 1.5 mph.
It didn't take too long before our first rod started bouncing, signalling a fish on the other end. As we looked back a beautiful silver bullet started a tail-dancing ballet and we could see it was a nice fish.
I grabbed the rod and started reeling. It's been a while since I've caught a bigger class of kokanee and this fish was pulling hard and taking line. As the rod doubled over I got control of the fish and started gaining line. As the fish came to the back of the boat Toby grabbed the net and expertly slide it under the spent fish. Wow, we landed a beautiful, chunky silver kokanee that measured just shy of 18" to start the day.
The morning continued, not red hot but each fish we landed was a decent size ranging 17-19". At lunch time John pulled out his grill and we were treated to freshly caught and grilled kokanee sandwich, yum! That's as fresh a fish as I've ever had, from water to grill to my tummy in under an hour. Now that's living!
We ended the day with not the 20-30 fish day we had hoped for, but considering the earliness of the season we were very happy with a half dozen quality kokanee. John noted that as the season progresses come April those catch numbers will continue to rise.
It looks to be another good year of fishing on Anderson Ranch Reservoir. If you're looking for a new destination to go after 20"+ kokanee put this body of water on your radar screen. It's much closer than a road trip to Flaming Gorge and Boise has some nice places to stay and restaurants to eat at.
Don't forget to stock up on Wiggle Fin products, including the new HellRazor Dart dodger, wiggle fins, and swarm flashers. Dean Teegarden has spent many hours perfecting the fish-catching action of these products. I predict in the years to come kokanee anglers will be adding these products as go to gear for their kokanee trips.
Check them out at Wigglefin.com.