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Kokanee is land-locked Sockeye Salmon that spends an entire live cycle in freshwater. They are schooling fish, and once you locate the active school, ice fishing for Kokanee can turn into a high-action, fun-filled day.
With their reckless fight, pound-for-pound Kokanee provides an angler with an exciting ice fishing experience like no other. Like their ocean-going brothers, Kokanee has deep red oily flesh, making them superb table fare. Combine their delicious delicacy and amusement of catching them, it is no surprise that Kokanee is the second most sought-after freshwater game fish in British Columbia.
Kokanee is naturally distributed in lakes within BC. Thanks to the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, more lakes are being aggressively stocked, with Kokanee providing excellent angling opportunities. The hard water season offers a prime time for anglers, as, unlike the open water season, one doesn't require a boat to reach these fish. Instead, ice fishing for Kokanee provides an affordable family fishing experience that everyone can enjoy.
Fishing for Kokanee is much different than fishing for trout. Kokanee can thrive in lakes that Rainbow trout may not occur due to their typical diet, as they don't have to compete with other fish species. Instead of ice fishing in shallow water, you will typically be fishing in lake depths between 50 to 100 feet.
It is important to note that Zooplankton is light sensitive, which means the brighter days will drive them deeper, and the Kokanee will follow. An angler will typically locate Kokanee during ice over anywhere from 15 feet down as much as 80 feet. The use of sonar will help improve your odds immensely in finding the fish.
The best types of sonars to use when ice fishing for Kokanee is the flasher types, such as the Garmin Striker Series of sonars. They provide real-time movement on the screen that allows you to drop your presentation right to the fish.
When fishing with other anglers in your group, work as a team. For example, have one person start at 10 feet and the other at 15, progress deeper until you find the fish. Having a line counter on your reel will help recognize the depths you are fishing. If your reel doesn't have a line counter, simply count out the line in 1 foot pulls you are using. When you discover the fish, you will repeat the same depth. A good tip is to add a threaded bobber stop every 20 feet on your fishing line so you can quickly mark how many lines you let out.
Even though there is ice cover, lakes still have current in them, pushing the Zooplankton to a specific end. Points and ledges that reach the lake can also provide good forage areas for Kokanee, as the plankton will be pushed up against these zones. When approaching a new body of water, simply look around for other signs of anglers, the locals tend to find the best producing areas for Kokanee, and they don't change much throughout the year.
One of the great benefits of targeting Kokanee during the hard water season is the extended season.
When there are no fish around, make longer quick jigs to get the attractor to reflect light to help attract the fish from afar. Once the school of Kokanee moves in, you'll want to shorten the amount in which you are moving the lure. Not only will the flash bring in the fish, but also the attractor will transfer erratic action to your bait that will encourage the Kokanee to strike. The key is to always keep moving your presentation as Kokanee will strike very lightly, and it's the constant jigging that will set the hook before you even know you have one on.
The hook can consist of a plain hook or small jigs. Mack's Lure Glo-Hooks in red and chartreuse hands down produce the best results. The added glow appearance aids the Kokanee to key in on the lure and encourages them to strike. If you are using a regular hook, choosing colors such as chartreuse or red will sometimes help entice the bite. If the hook is tangling with the flasher, add a small split shot weight to the middle of the leader.
Some anglers prefer small spoons or jigs, such as a Mack's Lure Sonic Bait Fish or HumDinger Spoon. The small jigs and spoons provide that extra bit of action that invites the Kokanee to strike. It is best to try multiple presentations until you find a working pattern. Working one day doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work the next.
Popular baits that work great for Kokanee include Pink Maggots (live or synthetic), krill, shrimp, or cured and dyed white shoepeg corn. Take your presentation to the next level by adding Pro-Cure Scents such as Krill, Shrimp, or Trout and Kokanee Magic as it will attract fish from afar and get them to strike on the slowest days.
It is possible to "still fish" for Kokanee, which involves suspending the bait with no movement. Scent and bait are a must when using this method, or the fish will not strike. Be sure to hold the rod in your hand and not resort to a rod holder. You will need to set the hook the moment that the Kokanee bites. Bobbers are not recommended, as the bite is so light that it usually will not pull it down. The most effective way is to identify a bite is to hold the line between your fingers. Still, fishing can be effective when the fish are less active and unwilling to chase your jigging presentation. The bait needs to be directly in front of the Kokanee as most of the time, they won't swim upwards to strike a suspended and still presentation.
The fishing rod type isn't as important as the presentation. However, a softer rod will help you recognize the subtle strikes and land more Kokanee as they have soft mouths.
It is up to you and what you have within your fishing arsenal.
Since Kokanee requires high oxygen levels, you will mainly find these landlocked salmon in mid to large lakes within the BC Interior. The Freshwater Fishery Society of BC has aggressively stocked numerous lakes around the province with Kokanee and Triploid Kokanee. Triploid fish do not reproduce, meaning Triploid Kokanee put all their energy into feeding and growing. It is not unheard of for Triploid Kokanee to sometimes reach over 3 pounds.
A few popular lakes in British Columbia well stocked with Kokanee and offer good ice fishing include the following: Region 3" Monte Lake, Stump Lake; Region 4 "Moyie Lake, Monroe Lake; Region 5 "Bridge Lake, Deka Lake, Chimney Lake, Timothy, 10 Mile Lake; Region 8" Alleyne Lake, Yellow Lake, Otter Lake.
Due to these fish residing in deeper lake areas, they don't become as deprived of dissolved oxygen as other fish species. Later in the ice-fishing season, such as mid-February, the fish are not as sluggish and willing to strike a well-presented lure.
The most productive way to catch Kokanee through the ice is by jigging. These little critters are attracted to flash and lots of it! With this in mind, jigging techniques use 4 to 6-inch attractors such as a Mack's Lure Sling Blade Dodger. Run a 6lbs leader between 14 and 16 inches from the attractor of choice to your lure. Having a variety of colors of attractors will increase your odds immensely throughout the day. UV Pink, Silver, Glow, and gold or copper Sling Blades tend to be the best producing colors.
They require a well-balanced water system of numerous contributing factors to survive. They do not handle catch and release well, and their mortality rate is high even when handled and released with extra care and attention. Releasing the fish while still in the water is the best way to help with their survival rate when not being selected for harvest.
The FFSBC stocks the lakes with Kokanee as a put and takes fishery, meaning they are there to harvest. It is good etiquette to limit fishing for Kokanee to the casual appetite for table fare and not just to fill a freezer. It is always recommended to check the fishing regulations before fishing, as many water bodies in British Columbia have lake-specific regulations during the ice fishing season.
Check out all of Danny Coyne's fishing tips and techniques at BCFishn.com or find him on Facebook at Facebook.com/BCFishn.