By John Kruse
In recent years, anglers who love the taste of salmon have been frustrated at times by inconsistent returns of chinook, coho and sockeye salmon in rivers and lakes across our state. This has led to limited and, at times, no opportunities to harvest these fish. In response, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been stocking kokanee in lakes, providing an easily accessible opportunity for anglers to catch and keep a great tasting fish. The kokanee is a landlocked sockeye salmon that ranges in size from 7 to 16-inches or more.
The state record kokanee salmon was caught out of Lake Roosevelt by Clarence Rief in June of 2003, a chunky 6.25-pound trophy. The world record kokanee was caught not far from our borders in northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Lake. Ron Campbell caught this fish in 2010, a massive 9-pound, 10-ounce salmon which ironically, was caught the same day I was trout fishing with my family from shore at the Wallowa Lake State Park. Traditionally, Lake Stevens, Merwin Reservoir, Lake Chelan, and Lake Roosevelt have been known as steady kokanee fisheries in Washington State, but other lesser-known lakes as well as some only stocked in recent years are beginning to emerge as kokanee salmon destinations.
Steve Caromile is the Inland Fish Program Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He says, “Washington has one of the largest hatchery programs in America, if not the world”, and stocks some 16 million fish in lakes around the state every year. Kokanee are stocked in several dozen reservoirs. This includes destinations like Banks Lake and Deep Lake in Grant County. Palmer and Bonaparte Lakes, along with Conconully Lake and Conconully Reservoir, all offer popular places to catch kokanee in Okanogan County. Additionally, well established kokanee destinations include Loon, Deep and Deer Lakes in Stevens County, Kachess and Keechelus Lakes in Kittitas County, as well as Bumping and Rimrock Lakes in Yakima County.
Several waters traditionally thought of as trout or mixed warmwater/cold-water fisheries have emerged as kokanee fishing destinations in recent years due to stocking efforts. Examples of this are Spectacle and Alta Lakes in Okanogan County as well as Curlew Lake in Ferry County, Davis Lake in Pend Oreille County and Fish Lake in Chelan County, where well-known angling personality Dave Graybill recently went fishing and caught several 12 to 13-inch kokanee. Another Chelan County waterbody stocked with kokanee in recent years is Wapato Lake near Manson. In total, kokanee salmon are either stocked or naturally producing and available to catch in 19 counties in Washington. You can find a complete listing of these lakes at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/oncorhynchus-nerka-kokanee#locations
When it comes to catching kokanee salmon, you can occasionally hook into them fishing from shore using small spinners or spoons, but trolling for them from a boat is the best way to go. Kokanee can be anywhere from 20 to 100 feet below the surface depending upon the time of year and water temperature. Bob Loomis, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Mack’s Lure, has some good advice for anglers when it comes to catching these fish. At this time of year, he’ll look for the fish from 20 to 60 feet deep and troll slow for them. He’ll tie on a four to six-inch long oval shaped dodger like a Mack’s Lure Double D, which has good movement at slow speeds. On the leader behind the dodger, he’ll tie on a Mack’s Cha Cha 1.5 Kokanee Squidder with a silver Smile Blade and a hot orange body. In Bob’s words, this is “my go to lure for any lake I fish”. As spring turns into summer and water temperatures rise, Loomis recommends looking deeper in the water column and trolling faster (above 1.5 MPH) for the kokanee. At this time of year, he’ll switch to a narrower shaped dodger like a Mack’s Sling Blade and a lower profile lure like a Mack’s Lure Koke-A-Nut.
No matter what time of year you fish, tip your lure with bait. The tried-and-true offering for kokanee is shoe peg corn, but Loomis also suggests trying other offerings like small pieces of worm, maggots or shrimp. Best of all, kokanee salmon can be caught all year long in our state, so if you are looking for some fine tasting salmon that will always be available at a lake or reservoir near you, consider trolling up some kokanee for the grill this year.
FREE LIFETIME RECREATION PASSES FOR VETERANS AND GOLD STAR FAMILIES
The America the Beautiful Pass allows you to enter National Parks, U.S. Forest Service
Recreation Areas, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management properties, and other federal lands requiring an entry fee. It’s available as a lifetime pass for Seniors over 62 for $80 and now, thanks to a National Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President Biden in December of 2021, this lifetime pass is now available for free to military veterans and Gold Star family members. This includes veterans who served in the National Guard or Army Reserve.
Ideally, you would pick up this pass for free today at National Forest or BLM district and
headquarters offices around our state. Unfortunately, they are not yet printed or available. In the meantime, you should ask for an annual America the Beautiful Military Pass, which you can now get as a veteran at no charge. This pass is good for one year. By next year, you should be able to get the actual veteran’s lifetime pass. Because of lingering Covid pandemic issues, many of these offices are only open by appointment only, so call ahead and make sure they have the military passes in stock and are aware of this program before you make the drive.
When you arrive to pick up this pass in person you will need to present one of the following
forms of identification as a veteran:
1) Department of Defense Identification Card
2) Veteran Health Identification Card
3) Veteran ID Card
4) Veterans’ designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card
Another option is to pay $10 and get the pass online. You can do so at
https://store.usgs.gov/MilitaryPass . Simply click on the “Determine Eligibility” tab, put that
pass in your shopping cart, create an account, upload a photo of your ID card and order it.
Then, explore our federal public lands for the rest of your life, no entry or parking fees required, though you do still have to pay for overnight stays.
Introducing Kids to Fishing and Fun
Want to introduce a child to fishing so that they’ll fall in love with the sport? Here’s a few surefire tips to help you and whichever kid or kids you’re taking have a great time on the water!
DRESS FOR SUCCESS: Before you head to the river, lake, or ocean, be sure that kid is dressed comfortably. Nothing puts the kibosh on a fishing day faster than discomfort. If it’s cool out make sure they are bundled up and have a pair of gloves. Rain in the forecast? Pack some raingear. Sunny and warm? Don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and chap stick.
PUT YOUR FISHING ROD AWAY: Remember the reason for this expedition. It’s all about introducing that child to fishing so that they fall in love with it as much as you do. With that in mind, you may want to keep your fishing rod at home, especially if you are fishing with more than one child. You’ll have scant time for fishing while you are teaching them how to cast, untangling snarled line, helping them get snagged lures loose, and cheering them on as they reel in fish that you’ll net for them.
INCREASE THE ODDS FOR SUCCESS: Don’t start off that kid’s fishing career going after winter steelhead or another species where success is defined as getting one or two bites a day. Oh no, this is all about making sure that child has a great chance to reel in a bunch of fish in a hurry. Looking for ideas?
- Head to a recently stocked lake for trout. They are usually more than happy to bite and can be caught still fishing with bait (dough baits, worms, salmon eggs and marshmallows all work) or with artificial lures like spinners, spoons, or flies. You can find out where trout are being stocked and when at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports/stocking
- Consider panfish. Crappie and bluegill are found in schools and the fishing can be fast and furious when you find one and put the right offering in front of them. Small jigs work well tipped with a worm, either cast and retrieved, or fished under a bobber. No matter how old that child is, they’ll love watching that bobber go down in the water and setting the hook on that fish. As a matter of fact, I still love that!
- Shad are feisty, plentiful and fun! In recent years we’ve had five to six million shad returning up the Columbia River between May and July. They average one to four pounds in size and are scrappy fighters. They are not known as great table fare but the do make for great bait and are also fun to just catch and release. There are several guides that offer discounted half-day trips from late May through early July for shad with kids in mind. If you want to do it yourself you can either fish a small Dick Nite spoon or Mack’s Shad Slammer behind a weight out of a boat, or cast a small jig called a shad dart (1/16th ounce is ideal) on a leader behind a ¼ to ¾ ounce weight depending on river flow. The best places to catch shad from shore are right below Bonneville Dam and the John Day Dam.
SNACKS AND HYDRATION: The fish will not always be biting and both you and the kids with you will get hungry- playing outside just seems to do that. Be sure to bring some of their favorite snacks with you and dish them out as appropriate. You’ll want to make sure you and your young anglers keep hydrated too- with water or Gatorade. Dehydration sneaks up on you and can turn a fun day into something less.
INCORPORATE ANOTHER ACTIVITY INTO THE DAY: Consider doing something else with the kids besides fishing. If you are fishing for shad near Bonneville Dam, take the kids to the fish ladder so they can see all of those shad along with salmon and steelhead moving through the fish ladder. Fishing a river or stream? Turn over some rocks and look for crayfish. Fishing in the saltwater? Head to a rocky area when the tide is out and explore the tidepools. Are these not options where you are fishing? Well, you can always go to a local diner or drive-in for a meal when you are done fishing and talk about the fun day you had together. Follow these tips and there is a very good chance you are going to hook some young anglers on fishing!