Many lakes and reservoirs across the West offer great Kokanee fishing. These land-locked salmon have the biggest appetites, however they only eat the tiniest forage in the lake, plankton. Being a plankton feeder, they put anglers in the unique position of trying to fish for a species that feeds on forage so small that there is no way to imitate it with a fishing lure. So, out of necessity, Kokanee fishers have developed lures and attractors that catch a Kokanee’s interest and trigger the bite, even though these lures are way bigger than the stuff they naturally eat. Along with a few really bizarre scents and baits, we have pretty much figured out how to catch these fish with stunning regularity.
Kokanee Fishing in the Pacific Northwest and Beyond
What is a Kokanee?
Kokanee are essentially Sockeye Salmon that are land-locked. Sockeye Salmon are only found in watersheds that host a lake system that is accessible to the Pacific Ocean. Some Sockeye may choose to residualize and never travel to sea, and these resident Sockeye are called Kokanee. These native populations of Sockeye and Kokanee can be found in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia and Alaska. Over the years, fisheries managers have discovered many lakes and reservoirs across the West that could support Kokanee Salmon populations. Hence, Kokanee Salmon have been introduced to waters in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and elsewhere. For information on local fishing opportunities, check out your state’s fish and game department website.
Kokanee Salmon are very temperature sensitive and typically they like temperatures as close to 55 degrees as possible. As the lake temperatures shift throughout the year, Kokanee will be found concentrated at different depths in the water column, chasing that cool water that they love to live in. Since trolling is the primary technique for Kokanee, most anglers use downriggers to troll their favorite depths without having a big ole sinker attached to the line. Kokanee have very soft mouths, and the use of a downrigger allows you to use a light fishing rod that helps to keep the hooks from pulling through a Kokanee’s jaw.
Basic Fishing Setup
The most common setup for Kokanee fishing is a dodger, a leader and a lure tipped with a small amount of bait. I have listed a few of my favorites below. For more information on gear, this write up on one of my local Kokanee fishing lakes should be helpful… Kokanee Fishing on Lake Stevens, Washington.
Best Kokanee Lures
The Kokanee fishing lure market has exploded in recent years. I remember my first foray into buying Kokanee gear, and there were a handful of lures to choose from. Now, there are so many options that it can seem overwhelming to figure out what you need without spending hundreds of dollars on lures for a day on the lake. Here are a few of the most popular and productive Kokanee fishing lures used by anglers across the Pacific Northwest, Montana, Utah, Northern California, and anywhere else that Kokanee Salmon are stocked.
Kokanee Killer Lure
The Pro Troll Kokanee Killer is one of the original gangsters of the Kokanee lure lineup. Often used when Kokanee are aggressive and on the bite. This larger profile lure has been popular for many years. These lures have their own action, so you can fish them on their own or behind a dodger.
Kokanee Killer Lure – Bass Pro
Kokanee Cut Plug
One of the newest lures on the Kokanee fishing market. The Brad’s Killer Kokanee Cut Plug is another large profile lure that has an enticing spin, offered in colors specific for Kokanee fishing. One feature that the Cut Plug has, is the unique ability to open the lure and pack with your favorite Kokanee Salmon bait, such as kernel corn, canned tuna, or apply scent to the internal sponge. Brad’s Kokanee Cut Plugs have their own action, so you can fish them on their own, or more traditionally behind a dodger. Very cool!
Kokanee Cut Plug – Bass Pro
Small plastic squid, or “Hoochee” with a unique twist. Mack’s Lures has added a clear plastic bill that allows the lure to have its own action and wiggle. Similar to the Apex and Cut Plug, you can fish these on their own or behind a dodger.
Mack’s Lures Wiggle Hoochee – Bass Pro
Mack’s Lures offers one of the most recognizable and popular Kokanee Salmon fishing lures on the planet. The Wedding Ring has been around since my Granddaddy’s fishing days, and has provided great fishing for countless Kokanee anglers across the West. The Classic Wedding Ring is a great bet if you are overwhelmed with all the options available for lures. Nowadays, Mack’s Lures and other companies now have many variations on the Wedding Ring, which displays just how beloved and effective this lure is.
Mack’s Wedding Ring – Bass Pro
Rocky Mountain Tackle offers up another spinner-style lure that is a great producer for Kokanee. These are offered with UV blades and beads that give great visibility in the water.
Rocky Mountain Tackle Signature Spinner – Bass Pro
The Rocky Mountain Tackle Signature Squid is a perfect option when you just don’t know what to tie behind your dodger. These mini squid lures are UV glow, tied on quality leader material, and two sticky-sharp hooks. Tip with a kernel of White-Shoepeg Corn or a Berkley Gulp! Maggot and you have a great setup that will catch Kokanee under a variety of conditions.
Rocky Mountain Tackle Signature Squid – Bass Pro
Rocky Mountain Tackle’s Super Squid is popular when the water temperatures are around that perfect 55 degrees and the Kokanee are super active. The brightness of the UV squid body is complemented by a flashy spinner blade.
Rocky Mountain Tackle Super Squid – Bass Pro
One of our all-time favorite Kokanee fishing tackle companies came our with the Koke-A-Nut a few years ago, and it checks all the boxes as a great fishing lure. A perfect profile of glow-in-the-dark flash material, and a dipped back hook has produced great for me throughout my spring Kokanee fishing.
Mack’s Koke-A-Nut Glo Series – Bass Pro
Mack’s Kokanee Pro series is a unique twist on the popular Wedding Ring lure. Instead of a metal spinner blade, it utilizes a light weight plastic Smile Blade, which spins freely at the slowest troll speeds.
Mack’s Kokanee Pro Lure – Bass Pro
Dick Nite Spoon
The list wouldn’t be completed without mention of one of the original Kokanee fishing lures. The Dick Nite Spoon has been helping Kokanee anglers haul in boat limits for more than 50 years. Available in 3 sizes and many color offerings, including the ever popular UV Kokanee series, you need a few of these in your arsenal if you plan on hitting the lake anytime soon.
Dick Nite Spoon – Bass Pro
Best Kokanee Dodgers & Trolls
Most Kokanee fishers use some sort of lake troll or dodger in front of their Kokanee lure. Not only will a dodger kick back and forth and give your lure a more erratic action, their flash can draw in Kokanee. Which are, as we know, a schooling fish. Most dodgers are in the 4″ to 6″ range, and there are too many colors to mention in this short post. But, as with Kokanee lures, the color of your dodger can have a great impact on fishing. I have an assortment of silver, silver/gold, UV Pink, UV Orange, and a few painted ones that I keep in my Kokanee fishing tackle box.
Double D Dodger
Mack’s Lures has a popular Kokanee fishing dodger called the Double D Dodger. It is unique in the sense that you can change its action by adjusting where you snap in your mainline. Multiple holes on the top of the dodger allow anything from the action of a standard dodger, to more of a stop and go action. This one is really popular with the Kokanee anglers that fish Eastern Washington’s Lake Chelan and Lake Roosevelt, but works really well anywhere you can troll for Kokanee in a lake.
Mack’s Double D Dodger – Amazon
Mack’s Lures Sling Blade Dodger is near the top of my list for Kokanee dodgers and trolls. This Washington State company has been offering great Kokanee fishing lures for several generations, and they continue to impress. The 6″ version is a great option if the water is murky or you just want more attraction from your dodger. That being said, I usually go straight for the 4″ Sling Blade and have some pretty consistent fishing.
Mack’s Sling Blade Dodger – Bass Pro
This dodger style is the ultimate standard for Pacific Northwest Kokanee fishing. In almost every situation I find myself in, the small 4/0 size is perfect for our Kokanee. It is around 4″ in length. Dick Nite produces my favorite line of standard dodgers, and although I usually start with a 50/50 (half gold, half silver) dodger, they have many other great painted and Mylar-taped color patterns to choose from.
Dick Nite Dodger – Bass Pro
Rocky Mountain Tackle’s Signature Dodgers are a perfect lake troll for Kokanee. Put your favorite Kokanee lure 12″ to 24″ behind one of these and you have a great set-up. The action is very similar to the Mack’s Sling Blade, and although I don’t really care which one is the original, I really like the wide variety of Mylar-tape color patterns that they offer.
Rocky Mountain Tackle Signature Dodger – Bass Pro
Preferred Kokanee Baits
So we have covered a few of my favorite lures and lake trolls, but I couldn’t end this post without sharing a few of my favorite Kokanee fishing baits as well! Although Kokanee are plankton feeders, there are a few baits that can increase the effectiveness of your lures. When I think about rigging baits on my lures for Kokanee, I always think of the old saying, Less is More. Most of the time, the lures need to be small to catch the Kokanee’s interest. Adding one small kernel of corn, or other bait, is all that you need to give your lure a little scent boost.
White Shoepeg Corn
For some reason, Kokanee love what the Jolly Green Giant has been cooking up. White Shoepeg Corn is one of the most well-known baits used by Kokanee anglers. You can take the Corn right out of the can and put a kernel on each hook. However, if you want to improve it, you can pick up canned tuna in oil, empty the contents into a container, and mix in the corn kernels. Make sure to drain all the liquid out of the corn can before mixing. Several bait and tackle companies have introduced their own variation of corn for Kokanee fishing, but the original is still a great option.
Berkley Gulp! Baits
The makers of the legendary Powerbait line up have a couple offerings that work great as a Kokanee attractant. Berkley Gulp! Alive! offers a few micro baits that are soaked in a powerful fish attractant, and come in numerous colors and shapes. I prefer the Waxies and Corn imitations. Berkley Gulp! Maggots are a great bait to tip your Kokanee lure with as well. I like having a couple bottles of artificial with me, as sometimes it out-fishes corn.
Berkley Gulp! Maggots – Bass Pro
Pautzke’s Fire Corn
Pautzke Bait Co really hit the nail on the head with their line of Fire Corn. Their cured corn bait is shelf-stable and comes in a variety of colors, including Kokanee favorites: Pink, Yellow and Natural. These guys are bait making wizards, and as per usual, they introduced a great product that is proven to catch more Kokanee.