By Randy Castello

Although there are a limitless variety of both the latest, tried and true kokanee lures hanging from the pegs at your local purveyor of tackle, many people choose to hit the water with at least a few home-tied lures. There is nothing wrong with ready tied kokanee lures and depending on the location, many shops will have a section catering to kokanee fishing. Even tackle stores far from a kokanee lake seem to have enough kokanee gear in stock to get you started. Here locally, Holiday Sports in Burlington has an aisle dedicated to kokanee lures, flashers, and lure components. So, with the variety of prepackaged kokanee lures available, why create your own?

I think that the answer is in kokanee fishing overall. Sure, they are a scrappy opponent, taste fantastic, and here in Washington most lakes have a 10 fish bonus limit. But more so, kokanee fishing is a mental game. A successful kokanee fisherman understands both the regional and seasonal adjustments required to consistently put fish in the net. Much of the fishery is spent massaging the grey matter while trying to figure out the trick of the day or even hour. Kokanee are very fickle and when you entice a bite on a lure you tied the whole experience is enhanced.

My personal history of fishing custom lures goes way back. I have always been an avid fly-tier and enjoy making one-offs or attractor flies. In my youth I used a black marker or nail polish to doctor up Oakie-Drifters and Steel-Lee spoons to enhance my steelhead offerings. I spent 20+ years in Southern California chasing anything that swims. I would often put a short notch in the body of small curly tail grubs when fishing for trout in the Sierra’s. The cut would give the tail action a little extra vibration that drove the trout nuts. When fishing the bays and nearshore I would modify my swimbaits with a marker or colored Sharpie. I even bought a mold to cast my own 4 and 5” swimbaits. I poured many crazy colors; I even modified the 5” mold to incorporate a scent chamber where I could squirt a bit of scent into the swimbait. These are just some of the ideas that constantly bubbled from my head on their way to the end of my line. So, why the effort when there is plenty of excellent gear on the market?

It’s that kokanee mental thing, catching a fish on something that you concocted. I think that with kokanee fishing, when you can consistently catch fish on a lure that you developed or modified, it just plain feels good! Hooked yet? How does one get started?

The answer may vary a bit depending on your goal. Do you want to invent the next hot Kokanee fly, design a new

spinner blade, or just hobble together some random spinner blade/bead combos? Whatever your goal is, it may be a good idea to ease into your new interest; don’t go out and buy the stuff to make 250 kokanee lures. Start slow; a few spinner blades, beads and spinner clevises. If you’re a fly-tier, you probably already have the basics for any number of kokanee flies. Tying kokanee flies is fun and with some basic skills your imagination is your only limiting factor.

Although I’m fortunate that I have a dedicated tackle workbench that is well stocked with just about everything needed for making lures, it’s not necessary. Your kitchen table, garage workbench, or even your lap while watching a game are perfect for making lures. I also carry a spinner/lure making Plano box on almost every fishing trip. One never knows when you’ll have to make mods or throw together an emergency lure.

A problem I have is that I have kind of settled into a given group of custom spinner/bead combos and a handful of kokanee flies that consistently produce fish. Good or bad, not sure. I enjoy making lures but do I need more kokanee lures? No, probably not, but I’m sure that I’ll hatch a new batch of kokanee lures this year anyway. I may even explore the world of tube flies!

Where do you start? I think that before you spend any money, turn the trusty old trout tackle box upside down, give it a good shake and step back to see what you have. That big ball of old tangled up wedding ring spinners will be gold. Is there a handful of small spoons or old flies? Look in the tackle box and you’ll find an old rusty spoon stuck under one of the shelves. Pry it loose, maybe hit it with a drop or two of penetrating oil, and start dissecting your treasure pile. In the end it is likely that you’ll have quite a collection of small Colorado blades, wedding rings, beads, and a variety of components that may fuel your lure making passion all winter.

You can also purchase the components through one of the many lure making supply websites or your local tackle shop, but be aware that many are either wholesale or cater to the bug-eye crowd. Size 1 and 2 spinner blades are hard to find. If you don’t find any at your local tackle shop, ask if they will make a wholesale purchase and then package in smaller quantities for retail sale. Beads? I think that every fisherperson has wandered down the bead isle at your local hobby store and thought “If I was a fish…” If you are anywhere close to Lacey, Washington pay a visit to Shipwreck Beads, www.shipwreckbeads.com. Believe me, as a tackle crafter you will be blown away!  

Now that you have a box full of doohickies to start making kokanee lures with, now what?

Regarding spinner blade clevises, try to find either the small plastic clevises or the spring type. The folded metal ones are great if you are making wire spinners but with manufacturing inconsistencies, they may abrade the light mono or fluorocarbon that you will be using as leader material.

I own a couple different wire benders and have tried to fabricate wire kokanee spinners. Even using a very fine wire gauge, the spinners end up being too heavy and rigid. When making kokanee lures, you want the action of the lure to just sort of flutter or follow the attractor action. Wire spinners tend to just hang there.  

Line size? I used to believe a lighter leader line would draw more strikes than a heavier leader. Apparently in the underwater world of kokanee fishing I was WRONG, kokanee are not leader shy.In fact, there are a couple Washington State kokanee fisheries where I start with 20# fluorocarbon leaders and have no shortage of bites.

I guess that it is mildly comical. Some days kokanee can be very boat shy, where they won’t bite anything running on less than a 70’ setback. Or crazy stuff; like a boat must be heading east instead of west with Jimmy Buffett, Son of a Sailor on the Bluetooth to get bit, but they have no problem smacking a spinner on an 8” hunk of 20-pound mono. That said, with few exceptions I tie my kokanee leaders on 12-14# fluorocarbon.

Hook size and color are kind of a personal preference. Many of my kokanee lures are tied using size 4 or 6 black octopus style hooks. I typically tie a snelled rig with 2 hooks. With my standard rig the hooks are pretty close together but there are times where I want a trailer or stinger hook in the set up.  

Maybe a note about leader length; I tend to have spools of ready to go lures when I’m on a lake hunting kokanee. Typically, they are the correct leader length for that fishery. It is a good idea to have a handful of pre-tied leaders that haven’t been cut to length available. The thought is that you’ll be able to assemble your lure then set leader length as required quickly. An 8-10” is kind of a standard kokanee leader length, but sometimes the fish want something different.

Ok, you have a sizable collection of kokanee leaders, now what? How do you store them without ending up with a large cocoon of fluorocarbon? Speaking of…when I was a child, I used to have a recurring nightmare where I got caught in a spider web and then wrapped up for a later meal. In hindsight, maybe what I thought was a spider web was really kokanee leaders. I need to get organized…

A couple of leader organization concepts are either sealable sandwich or snack bags, or, my favorite, the slotted foam tubes. If using the resealable bags, gently coil your kokanee leader and seal it in the bag. Store the sealed bags in something with a latching lid. With the slotted foam tubes, set the hook in the foam and wrap the leader securing the end in one of the slots. You can store the tubes on a rack, in a 3–5-gallon pail, or a 2-gallon resealable bag. I have found that using an empty 5 gallon to hang your leaders on during the day does wonders for keeping the boat organized as you cycle through set-ups. No point in becoming a fluorocarbon-spider meal, come up with an organizational plan that works for you and your boat.

Previously I mentioned that kokanee fishing is a mental game. As prepared as you are in the comfort of your living room, sometimes once on the lake you will need to think out of the box. My lure/spinner box allows me to tweak my presentations. I might add a couple beads and a second spinner blade, make a leader with a fly, then add spinner components. The box has small spin n glo floats, extra beads, various kokanee flies, wedding ring collars, some kokanee bugs, and a few other things to dress up your lure.    

Whether you are making spinners, tying flies or concocting something else, much of your kokanee lure making will be done at home. Enjoy the time and let your imagination go wild. Shoot, most small children love making lures, make it a family affair. Finally, lures made during the offseason should be stored in a cool, dark place.