The Hunt for Lake Washington Kokanee By  Hannah Pennebaker

The Hunt for Lake Washington Kokanee By Hannah Pennebaker

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Lake Washington? The I-90 bridge, SeaFair hydroplane races, and waterskiing are all popular answers. Lake Washington is the state’s second largest lake, right behind Lake Chelan, and spans about 22 miles long and 108 feet deep on average. Fishing may not be the first thing that comes to mind about Lake Washington, but there are an astounding variety of fish in the lake, and October is a great time to target them. Although houses and parks surround the lake, there are many boat launches and fishing docks as well. You may have heard that crappie, bass, cutthroat trout, and yellow perch inhabit the lake. There are several bass fishing tournaments every year at Lake Washington, with 6 pounders being fairly common. Anglers of all ages line up at the many docks during the summer to catch buckets full of crappie and yellow perch. You may have also heard about the coho and sockeye salmon fisheries in this lake. While the sockeye fishery has been closed down for years, the coho fishery is still going strong, with good returns predicted this year. Few anglers know about the Lake Washington kokanee fishery, and even fewer still take the time to figure out how to catch them in this enormous lake. Intimidated by the size of the lake, many kokanee anglers will drive right past Lake Washington and go all the way up to Lake Samish or Lake Whatcom to fish. Don’t be daunted by this lake, it’s well worth taking the time to learn how to fish it. The fat, football shaped kokanee often measure up to 16 or 18 inches in size, and they have bright red meat that is hard to beat on the grill or smoker. Fellow Northwest Fishing member and Lake Washington master Barry Dubnow often remarks that he would rather fish the lake and come home with 5 fat kokanee than drive all the way out to the Sound, then fight the wind and tides, only to have the chance at catching 2 fish at most! Did I mention that the kokanee fishery is open year-round at Lake Washington? October is prime time for kokanee fishing, so don’t put the boat away for the season just yet. Let’s start off your Lake Washington journey with some tackle tips, then we’ll dive into locations and tactics.

While typical kokanee tackle works at Lake Washington, there are some strategies and tactics that can make your trip more successful. The kokanee fishery has its peculiarities, and it differs year by year, and day by day. Short leaders seem to be the ticket, no matter what time of year. Mack’s Wiggle Hoochies, Brad’s Cut Plugs, and Mack’s Wedding Rings all work great. I’ve had days where Old Goat spinners and God’s Tooth spoons were all the fish wanted. Don’t forget to use scent, and plenty of it! Tuna, herring, and anchovy are all tried and true. Leaded line works great early in the season, but as the fish push deeper due to the heat, you’ll likely need to use your downriggers. Pink is the old kokanee standby, and it works well, but color combinations with some contrast can do better on days when the bite is slow. Watermelon, pink and yellow, and orange and purple will all catch fish. Like any good kokanee fishery, the key to success is having a few colors and scents of cured corn. Maggots will catch fish on some days, but corn seems to be the ticket. Keep in mind that no matter what you use, kokanee have soft mouths and tend to come off the hook, so take your time when playing your fish and have a net ready. 

With miles of shoreline on both sides of Lake Washington, it can certainly be an intimidating lake to fish. How do we find the fish in such an enormous lake? The good news is that there are a few reliable spots around the lake where fish tend to congregate. There are good kokanee spots throughout, so don’t feel like you need to run far from the boat launch. Those launching from Gene Coulon and Pacific Beach on the southern end of the lake tend to fish near the southern tip of Mercer Island. If you launch from Kenmore or the Kirkland Marina, you can fish in the cove near Juanita Beach Park and all alongside the shore near Kirkland. Look for points and coves, and try to think about where the krill that kokanee feed on would tend to gather. Find those marks, and locate schools. Drop a pin where you get bites, and pay attention to what depth and speed you were fishing at. Don’t be afraid to change up your speed or depth until you’ve figured out what the fish want that day. Remember to troll slow, and throw some s-turns and circles in! 

Before you grab your poles and cooler, there are a few things to keep in mind while fishing Lake Washington. If you fish during the late summer or early fall, there is a chance you may hook onto a sockeye salmon. You’ll know when the sockeye are in the lake: they show up as large arches near the bottom. Unfortunately, the kokanee tend to mix in with the sockeye, particularly in the late season when the water heats up and pushes them closer to the bottom. This creates a problem because sockeye retention is forbidden in the lake, and they do not tend to survive catch and release well. If your rod slams down and starts peeling drag more than usual, be prepared to net the sockeye and release it as quickly as possible. But how do you tell the difference between a sockeye and a kokanee? After all, a kokanee is just a land-locked sockeye salmon. Legally, any kokanee over 18 inches is a sockeye and must be released, so keep a measuring tape on your boat! Although there is a fish consumption advisory in Lake Washington for pikeminnow, bass, and cutthroat trout, there are no advisories for kokanee as of this writing. Bad news for those fishermen who like to fish as many rods as possible; two pole endorsement fishing is also not allowed on Lake Washington. Keep these peculiarities in mind, and you’re sure to have an amazing day reeling in your kokanee limit at Lake Washington! While it can be hard to find information on how to fish this lake, you can find all the reports made by local anglers by visiting our website at and clicking on the “latest fishing reports” button. Good luck, and I hope to see you out there!

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