By Mike Carey
Kokanee angling has been in a renaissance for several years now. Once a fishery relegated to a cadre of select anglers in the know, kokanee fishing has exploded on the scene the past few years. A growing following of enthusiasts have discovered that kokanee are a worthy adversary. They are delicious and provide the angler with a plethora of techniques to learn and fine tune their skills on. The gear and methodology an angler can learn offer years of refinement of skills. In short, an angler that choses to pursue kokanee has embarked on a journey that will challenge his/her skills and make them a a better fisherperson.
That said, I'd like to share ten of my favorite places to fish for kokanee. If you haven't fished these lakes, I encourage you to add them to your kokanee bucket list. I think you'll be glad you did... without further ado and in no particular order, here is my list of ten kokanee lakes you should fish.
Lake Sutherland - Located on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, this productive lake doesn't see the traffic of the I5 corridor lakes and is often missed as there just aren't a lot of lake fishing options that would draw people to the area. The lake is moderate sized and has some nice deep holes, and a good concrete boat launch with adequate parking. The kokanee will vary in size from year to year, and have been known to hit 14-15". The numbers are good and when the bite is on it can be quick limits. Throw in some pretty mountain scenery and you have a destination kokanee lake.
Lake Samish - my friend Randy, AKA "rseas" on NWFR, introduced me to this lake. The kokanee are abundant and, like Sutherland, can reach into that 14-15" range. What's interesting about this lake is it's almost two lakes in one. There is the large, main lake which gives you lots of room to spread out, and then to the north, going under a low bridge, you get to a smaller, circular part of the lake. This section can be good early in the season as it warms up quicker than the large, main lake. The launch is located on the upper east end of the main lake. Note, you'll have to pay for an addition invasive species sticker and get your boat inspected, courtesy of Whatcom county.
Lake Washington - The last few years the word has gotten out on Seattle's massive lake - "there be kokanee there"! Not only that, they are nice fish, ranging toward the 18" size limit. Bigger than that, you have to throw them back so as not to confuse them with sockeye (no matter what time of the year). These are beautiful, chunky fish! The trick is learning the locations (and maybe finding a few of your own). NWFR member's Barry Dubnow and DJ Butler have blazed a path for the rest of us to follow. Check out their fishing reports on northwestfishingreports.com to learn specific techniques and locations for these kokanee.
Merwin Reservoir - a yearly producer with consistent action, this reservoir can get busy - but it's a large body of water and handles the pressure well. The launch at Speelyai Bay is first rate with good parking, except in the summer months when the recreational boaters show up. That’s usually not an issue for crack of dawn kokanee anglers. Hot spots here can be right outside the launch as you get into the main lake, mid-lake, and the far end of the lake at the dam. For a mid-day break there are some cool channels that lead into great places to anchor out of the wind for a lunch break or midday nap.
Yale Reservoir - for many years Yale had the reputation of being a lake that only produced small kokanee so many anglers would avoid it and fish next door at Merwin. That perception has changed the past few years as, like many kokanee lakes do, the fish size varies from year to year. With bigger fish being caught this nice reservoir is seeing a resurgence of anglers hitting it first for it's abundance of fish (more so than Merwin). Pay attention to your fishfinder, there are areas with unlogged trees sticking up just waiting to steal your favorite kokanee setup. As with Merwin, there is a nice boat launch that gets very busy in the summer with recreational boaters. It's also a bit tricky with strong midday crosswinds and an assortment of boaters with various skill levels making for interesting retrieves at the launch.
Lake Roosevelt - It's a big... no, it's a huge body of water - and so are the fish. Legitimate 20" plus kokanee are caught on this massive reservoir. The challenge is knowing where to go and how to fish Roosevelt. For sure you'll want to read up on member reports to glean some tips and spots. Another option is to hire a guide the first time and take mental notes! Most guides are into teaching and sharing knowledge. A good place to find a guide is the NWFR web site Guide Directory which has an index of guides that fish Roosevelt. Roosevelt is in the desert of Washington and can get very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Be sure to be prepared for whatever conditions you may run into.
Lake Chelan - Located in the center of Washington, Lake Chelan is for many in Washington the mecca of kokanee fishing. A few years back the lake was producing an excellent class of fish ranging 16-20". The size has come down the last couple of years, but the action is still as fast as it's ever been. There is a huge biomass of kokanee in Chelan! A couple of years ago we got to run up to the far end of the lake at Stehekin with guide Lance Effrig. The kokanee action 55 miles up lake is every bit as good as down in the boat basin. Before you decide to make the run to Stehekin you better be sure to have a good boat, a lot of gas, and a good weather forecast. The waters can turn white-capped very quickly and there is no place to get out of the wind in the narrow lake. But there really is no need to go far as kokanee can be found everywhere from the boat basin to the state park.
Loon Lake - eastside anglers have a unique opportunity at Loon Lake, namely, catching two limits per angler in one trip. How is that possible you ask? A popular method of fishing kokanee on Loon Lake is still fishing. It's a technique few kokanee anglers use, but more should consider. And, if you can fishing in the evening and stay past midnight, you're officially in a new day. It's legal to have two limits in your possession. Personally, my days of staying up to midnight, let alone past midnight and in a boat, are long gone. But you may find it a fun thing to do. The kokanee in Loon are generally in the 10-12" range.
Pishkun Reservoir - Located in Montana, this kokanee lake is a gem, with a view of the Glacier National Park mountains in the distance. The lake holds a nice size class of 14-15" kokanee which you'll be fishing for alone or with at most one or two others boats. Plenty of free camping spots surround the lake and there is a nice ramp with dock, a pleasant surprise considering you're far removed from most signs of civilization. The lake also has some massive rainbow trout (are there any other kind in Montana?) and - bonus - trophy pike fishing. How's that for spending a long weekend of fishing? One thing to be aware of is this is bear country, so pack your camping gear accordingly.
Anderson Reservoir - this beautiful, desolate reservoir is in Idaho, about an hour east of Boise. Learn this lake and you'll soon be catching kokanee in the plus 20" range. While it's well known to the locals and there will be other boats fishing, it's plenty big enough and compared to other lakes mentioned you'll have plenty of room to spread out. Winter time planer board fishing is a blast on this lake. Watching a 20" kokanee slam a shallow water presentation and tail-walk like a tarpon is a sight you won't forget!
There you have it, ten of my favorite kokanee destinations. Give them a try and you may well be adding them to your list of favorite kokanee lakes!