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Catch Kokanee Fever! Understanding Kokanee Will Put You on the Bite

Catch Kokanee Fever! Understanding Kokanee Will Put You on the Bite

Over the last decade, a significant "Kokanee Fever" has swept through the fishing community across the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia regions, igniting an unprecedented passion for this species.

Kokanee, a close second to Rainbow Trout, have become immensely popular among game fish in British Columbia, and for good reasons! They're abundant, exciting to catch, and offer an exceptional culinary experience.

To get started, all you need are some basic techniques and an understanding of Kokanee's biology. Many anglers often misapply Kokanee fishing tactics, treating them as they would Rainbow Trout. Although there are similarities between the two, the way a Kokanee strikes your lure is distinctly different.

Understanding Kokanee Biology

Kokanee are essentially landlocked Sockeye Salmon. Like their marine counterparts, Kokanee mature between 3 to 5 years of age and perish after spawning. Their diet consists primarily of Zooplankton, which they filter from the water using fine combs on their gills known as "gill rakers". They also consume tiny plants, insects, and freshwater shrimp when available.

Kokanee spend most of their time mid-depth in lakes due to their food source's location. It's crucial to note that Zooplankton is light sensitive, which means on brighter days, Kokanee will follow their food source as it descends into the water column.

A Kokanee's size is largely dependent on genetics and density. The fewer the Kokanee in a healthy lake, the larger they grow. Kokanee also form part of the diet for other predatory fish such as Rainbow Trout and Char. A mature large Rainbow Trout or Bull Trout can consume up to 2 adult Kokanee per day! Hence, it's crucial to ensure your fishing gear does not mimic a threat similar to these predator fish.

Kokanee are particularly sensitive to water temperatures. They thrive in temperatures ranging from 45F to 54F, with 53F being optimal. Exposure to temperatures higher than 60F could prove fatal. This sensitivity is one reason why Kokanee don't handle catch and release well.

Locating Kokanee

Kokanee are schooling fish and can be spread across the lake, so their location can change daily. Having a good sonar system can significantly increase your chances of locating the fish. Key areas to target are those with currents, wind-blown points, tight narrow contour lines, and large points extending into the main lake. These zones are likely to house Kokanee due to their food source being driven into these areas.

Since Kokanee can occupy various depths within the water column, using downriggers can help you get your bait to the desired depth. If you don't have downriggers, a range of inline weights can assist in sinking your gear deep enough to reach the Kokanee. When using weights, it's essential to count out how much line you're putting out and the speed at which you're trolling. This way, you can reproduce successful results once you locate the fish.

A game-changing downrigger system for fishing mutiple depths: The Shuttle Hawk is a downrigger stacking system offered by Mack's Lure Tackle. It's designed to be attached to your downrigger cable, allowing you to stack a second rod on a single downrigger. This system significantly increases your efficiency by enabling you to effectively fish at multiple depths simultaneously.

Here's how it works: You attach the Shuttle Hawk to your downrigger cable, and it takes your release and lure to your desired depth. Once the fish strikes and the line is released, the Shuttle Hawk returns to the surface. This means you don't have to raise or lower your downrigger to reset your line, saving you time and effort.

The beauty of the Shuttle Hawk is that it can be used on both wire cable and braided line downriggers. This makes it a versatile tool that's compatible with different fishing setups. Whether you're a novice or an experienced angler, the Shuttle Hawk can simplify your downrigger fishing and increase your chances of a successful catch.

The Shuttle Hawk is widely recognized as a game-changer in the world of downrigger fishing. It's an innovative tool that allows for more efficient and effective fishing, making it a must-have for any serious angler.

Kokanee Tackle

Kokanee tackle has seen significant advancements over the last decade. Heavy metal gear like Gang Trolls and Ford Fenders, once favored by anglers, are quickly becoming outdated.

Anglers now prefer ultra-light tackle options with medium slow action rods. This lighter gear allows you to play the fish and absorb the Kokanee's aggressive fight, increasing the chances of landing the fish rather than losing them.


Kokanee have an aggressive nature and will attack anything unnatural entering their space, as long as they don't perceive it as a threat.

There is a variety of Kokanee lures available today, and most of the tackle we present to a Kokanee doesn't mimic their natural food. Instead, Kokanee lures are designed to irritate and provoke them to bite.

There are essentially two categories that all Kokanee lures fit into:

1. A lure with its own side-to-side action.
2. A lure that runs straight through the water.

It's important to note the length of your leader behind your dodgers as it depends on the type of lure you're using. A lure with its own action should run 3 to 4 times the length of the dodger, so the lure's action isn't interrupted by the dodger. A lure with no side-to-side action should run 2 to 2 ½ times the length of the dodger to transfer action from the dodger to the lure.

A few popular types of lures include:

Action lures - Mack's Lure Wiggle Hoochie, Hum Dinger Spoon, and Cripplure.
Non-action lures - Mack’s Lure Smile Blade, Wedding Ring, and Pee Wee Spinner Hoochie work well for fishing this freshwater salmon species.

Color Matters:

Kokanee are attracted to a variety of colors, including hot pinks, fluorescent red, bright orange, and chartreuse. Using UV and Glow colors are excellent during low light conditions and when fishing deeper water.

Dodgers & Flashers

As a dodger moves through the water, it creates a side-to-side flash and water displacement (sound to a Kokanee). Dodgers attract Kokanee and draw them in from afar. Once the Kokanee comes in, it's your lure that encourages the strike.

Select the right size dodger: Using larger dodgers in lakes with high predation can repel Kokanee, as larger dodgers can mimic a predator fish. It's a good idea to have a selection of 4 to 6-inch dodgers within your arsenal to provide options. Using larger dodgers in cloudy water will help the fish find your gear, while in clear water conditions, selecting a smaller 4-inch dodger can produce better results.

Choosing a dodger that can be "tuned" is a good idea. The Mack’s Lure Sling Blade Dodger is one of the most popular Kokanee dodgers on today's market because it can be bent to add or reduce the action. The added bend creates more action that the dodger will transfer to the lure, and the more "thump" will be created to attract the fish in. This is very helpful for trolling at slower speeds as is needed when fishing Kokanee.

Using inline flashers such as a Mack’s Lure Flash Lite 4-Blade Series can be a great tool when long lining without downriggers or when the fish are scattered and not as tightly schooled.

Since inline flashers have rotating blades and run straight through the water, they will not add action to your lure. Selecting a lure with its own action or with a spinner is crucial when using this type of attractor. Leader lengths vary between 15 to 30 inches depending on water clarity. When there is less water clarity, use shorter leaders.

Scent and Bait

Tipping your lure with a piece of bait will help close the deal once the Kokanee approaches your lure.

Popular Kokanee baits are Pink Maggots (real or synthetic), dyed-cured shrimp, and dyed-cured White Shoepeg Corn. Be sure not to put too much bait on the hook as it will take away from the lure's action. One piece of corn or 2 small maggots on each hook is adequate.

Anytime I'm Kokanee fishing, I'm adding scent! Yes, you can catch Kokanee without it, but if you really want to increase your odds of catching more Kokanee, using scent is key.

Not only does adding scent to your bait and lure provide a scent trail that helps the Kokanee hone in on your gear and tempt them to strike, but it helps mask any other unwanted smells that may repel a Kokanee.

Let’s face it, our human smell is not a natural attractant to Kokanee and neither is sunscreen, gas, or that stinky sandwich we had for lunch.

Mack's Lure UV Bait Scents by Pro-Cure are the industry leaders in creating scents for Kokanee. Some of their popular attractant scents are Shrimp/Krill Super Gel, Kokanee Special Super Gel, and Bloody Tuna Super Gel. Using scents that are irritants to Kokanee such as Garlic or Anise will also help yield results when the fish aren’t as active. Kokanee tend to attack these irritant smells out of sheer aggression.

Trolling Speeds and Tactics

Getting the right trolling speeds is critical when it comes to Kokanee fishing. Much slower speeds are used when trolling for Kokanee. Unlike fishing for Rainbow Trout where the average speed is over 2mph, speeds for Kokanee range from .8 to 1.8 mph.

Kokanee often trail your gear around the lake until something changes, at which point they think your lure is escaping or they get annoyed with it and strike. This is why it’s vital to troll in a way that adds erratic action to your presentation. Trolling tactics such as “S” Turns, stop and go, speed up then down, or even adjusting your downrigger up one turn and then back down will all help coax a Kokanee to strike your gear.

Kokanee fishing can sometimes be challenging, but once you get your presentation just right according to the conditions, you will have a lot of fun reeling them into the boat.

Final Thoughts

Some days will be much easier than others, but keep applying these basic methods, and you will have consistent results. The important thing is to get out and give Kokanee fishing a try, experiment, and most importantly, have fun!

Next article Mastering the Masquerade: Learning to Mimic Prey for Sea-Run Trout in Pudget Sound