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when their larger cousins have disap- peared from the local rivers. Every September and October in

Merwin and Yale Reservoirs, the creeks and streams host thousands of brilliant red and green spawning Kokanee that have chosen to make their final run, laying eggs in their redds in the gravel waterways that feed the reservoirs. They’ve stayed in the lake their entire lives, treating it as their ocean, milling around filtering the zooplankton and growing to whatever size the lake can support. This depends on the availability of food, numbers of fish, size of lake, and water temperatures throughout the year.

Generally, after this spawning event, the fishing on the lake will slow. Most of the three- to four-year old fish will decide it is time to head upstream and spawn, leaving only two- to three- year old, smaller fish to grow over the winter and spring. Traditionally, spring is when Kokanee fishing begins as the temps

start to warm and the fish

become more active. WINTER MYSTERY

Every December, the conversations

amongst the local anglers begin, weighing the factors on whether to gamble a trip to the reservoir. Rain, water temps, and water levels all can have a drastic impact on whether you will catch fish or not. Finding that right morning where you and your crew won’t freeze in a brisk east wind or get soaked by a downpour in the moun- tains takes patience and luck. However, I’ve identified a strange

phenomenon the last couple of years that can reward hardy anglers with some of the largest Kokanee of the year.

Generally, the largest Kokanee in

these reservoirs will make a spawning run and die in the creeks during the fall. But last January, on a couple out- ings we were able to find Kokanee larger than 17 inches. Merwin is known to have large Kokanee in it and, to a Kokanee angler, the difference between a 13-inch fish and a 17-inch fish is enor- mous. The question is, why are these larger fish being caught in winter, but disappearing in the spring? It goes against all Kokanee literature and knowledge. The lure of these larger fish brings a

whole new element to gambling a trip in the dead of winter. Most of the year, the norm is lots of bites, hard-fighting fish, and beautiful red and orange fil- lets to take home to smoke or barbecue.


This fishery is prime for kids of all ages as the gear is light and the action is plen- tiful. But in the winter, the harsher condi- tions and lack of consistent action keep

When fishing for Kokanee in vast

expanses of reservoirs or lakes, the preferred method is trolling.

even the hardiest of fishermen at home. Local anglers have their theories on

why these larger fish are present in the winter but disappear in the spring. Maybe there isn’t enough food to sup- port them and if they don’t spawn they die off from lack of nutrition early in the season. Perhaps the larger fish sim- ply hide in the expanses of submerged uncut forest that are still standing at the bottom of the reservoir. Maybe they take up residence down by the restricted area next to the dam and are not targeted by the fishermen. We may never know the answer, but

catching these trophies is usually hard- earned, and still rare enough to keep us wondering.

TARGETING KOKANEE When fishing for Kokanee in vast

expanses of reservoirs or lakes, the pre- ferred method is trolling. The fish have the whole body of water to find the prime areas for forage and ideal water temperatures, and trolling is the only way for us to find where those areas are. Sometimes they are as shallow as 2 feet from the surface; other times the layer the fish prefer to hold in can be 100 feet down. The exact depth varies with light, temperature and time of year, but wherever it is, the key is to put your gear in the right zone. You can have the best Kokanee offering in the world, but if it is off the mark, it will never catch a fish. One of the most important items in a Kokanee angler’s

arsenal is his

dodger, or attractant. When trolling a massive amount of water, you need the ability to call in schools of fish to your gear if possible. The sound and vibra- tions made by your dodgers, or gang trolls, can be all the difference in the world and even more important than your lure. Kokanee fishermen for years have been using gang trolls “Cowbells” or “Ford Fenders.” More


recently, the use of specific dodgers is becoming more popular for their ease of use, less drag when playing a fish, and their productivity. “Arrowflash” or “Simon” Kokanee dodgers


extremely effective in all three of those categories. Dodgers provide erratic action that

brings the fish even closer to your lure. Most anglers use small spinners or hootchies that are about an inch to inch and a half in length. The key to using the newer dodgers is to run a 6- to 12- inch leader between the large dodger and the lure, as it increases the action, promoting more strikes. The most pro- ductive colors

are usually pinks,

whites and oranges. Anglers often tip the hooks of the lures with a piece of white shoepeg corn. Why Kokanee prefer to strike these lures with the corn is a mystery, as there is nothing in their natural habitat that the lures replicate. Kokanee can be surprisingly aggres-

sive in striking lures, just like their larger cousins

offshore. When you come

across an active school, it is better to treat the fish like a school of tuna instead of salmon. Keeping the lures close together will get more hookups; when one fish decides to attack a lure, others will follow suit if the baits are in the same area. After the first hookup, leaving the fish on for a short time before reeling it in will attract the oth- ers to the rest of the lures. Kokanee have the ability to abso -

lutely bend the rod over and rip line off the reel. Specialized, extremely light, and soft-actioned rods are common, as Kokanee have the strength to pull too hard and spit the hook with little effort. They are notoriously soft-mouthed, making the challenge of landing them even tougher. Kokanee are considered a lesser

salmon compared to the larger Chinooks and Coho of the region. But for those who venture out and take their chances on bigger fish during the “offseason,” the reward is great. Popularity in these fisheries is growing rapidly and are considered some of the fastest growing in the Pacific Northwest.

Cameron Black is an active member of

the Southwest Washington Chapter. He is owner-operator of Gone Catchin Guide Service specializing in Salmon, Steel - head, and Sturgeon primarily in the Columbia River and tributaries. He can be reached at 360-921-5079 or on his web- site,


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