Kokanee Fishing Tips

This is an opinion and a combination of facts from research of my many years of Kokanee fishing.

To effectively target Kokanee you must understand the fish itself, fishing for Kokanee is unlike any fishing you have done in the past.

What is a Kokanee Salmon??

Kokanee is a word from the Okanagan language referring to land-locked lake populations of Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka. Other names are: Kickininee, little redfish, silver trout, landlocked sockeye, blueback.

Kokanee are plankton feeders just like Sockeye salmon. They feed on a species of fresh water plankton called "Daphinia" or the common name, "Water Fleas".

Kokanee filter their food through special combs on the gills called "gill rakes". 

At times, they will also feed on insects, tiny plants, and small fresh water shrimp when available.

Kokanee Life Cycle
Kokanee start their lives in the tributary streams or calm shorelines of lakes and reservoirs. After a gestation period over the winter months (this time depends on temperature of the native waters), they hatch into tiny fish called "Alevin". They spend about a month or two in the gravel bed. During this time they do not eat, as they have an embryo sack still attached that sustains them. Next, they squirm their way out after dark and swim as fast as they can to the lake. There, they will start to form small schools near the surface and start feeding on zooplankton.

Kokanee mature at year 3. This is when they start contributing to our addictive fishery. Some 3-year fish will reach spawning maturity and migrate to the spawning grounds, while it is more typical for a 4 or 5-year fish. After reaching the spawning grounds, the males and females pair up. Just as it is in life, the women do all the child bearing work. The female turns on her side and digs a nest in the gravel called a "Redd". With the male at her side, he watches and chases off any potential suiters that enter the area while courting her at the same time. There, the female and male deposit their eggs and sperm simultaneously. The female gently covers the fertilized eggs before moving off to build another nest with another male. She may do this up to 3 times before all of her eggs are spent. A Kokanee's life cycle is now complete. The Kokanee will die after spending all of their energy mating.

Kokanee in the non-spawning stage are bright silver in color on their side, that fades to a dark blue/green on their backs, with a white stomach. The Kokanee's scales are imbedded in their skin and is protected with a thick layer of mucus slime.

In the spawning stage, they have the typical Sockeye Salmon look, bright blood red on the sides that fades to a dark green or black on there backs. The male will have a hump on his back with a pronounced hooked jaw, where the female does not change much in shape, only color. At this stage, the scales have been absorbed into the skin and the Kokanee is smooth to the touch with no mucus slime present.

Kokanee can die if they stay in temperatures over 55 degrees for extended periods of time. When actively feeding, if the food source is in a warmer area, they will follow for a short time then descend into cooler water. I have caught kokanee in a surface water temperature of 70 degrees early in the morning, then after the sun rises, down to the depths they go.

Kokanee Senses:

Kokanee are attracted to moving objects that they can hear in the water. They are very territorial, so they will come to investigate.

Kokanee see color and strike at colors they do or do not like depending on the day, hour, or minute. Remember, Kokanee feed on plankton, not big orange or pink things in the water. We are trying to get them to strike out of anger and frustration, that this thing is in his or her territory.

Just like any Salmon, Kokanee have an incredible sense of smell. Make sure you use gloves when baiting up. We will cover more on that later in the CORN/SCENT part on this article. If you are not using scent, you are not fishing for Kokanee.
Check out Shoepeg corn tips and tricks on this site.

Fishing For Kokanee
Now that you have a better understanding of Kokanee, lets go fishing!!!
Kokanee as you may have heard, have very soft mouths, are a schooling fish, and are hard to target on a consistent basis. If you use the right gear, your chances of landing more fish goes up tremendously.

Fish Finder:
This is the most important piece of equipment on your boat. You can not catch Kokanee if your offerings aren't in front of the fish. You could be at 30 feet and everything perfect on your line for that day, but if the Kokanee are at 65 feet, you are just burning gas and enjoying the scenery, then telling your friends about the ones that got away... instead of showing off pictures of "The Catch-of-the-Day".

Purchase the best fish finder that you can afford, but keep in mind, the higher-end models will allow you to target Kokanee easier. Kokanee have a larger air bladder than most other fish and the higher end units will allow you to see the difference on the screen. If you can get one with a GPS built in, this makes for better viewing because everything you need is on one screen. When you see a school of fish on your screen, mark that location on your screen. You can now just circle around and target that school of fish. Read your manual carefully. Talk to the salesperson who sold it to you... chances are they are more than happy to get you aquatinted with your electronics.


Downriggers are a must in the later months of Kokanee fishing because Kokanee will be at the thermocline area where the water temperature is about 54 degrees. This is the favorite temperature for Kokanee. At this temp, they are aggressively feeding and protecting there territory. In this area, use your electronics to target Kokanee in the later months of the year, April-September. You can see the thermocline on your electronics if you set the sensitivity to about 90%, then send your rigs down. When I have my offerings in the zone and see fish on the fish finder, I can predict just when they will hit.

When fishing with downriggers, I prefer to use the Deathstalker downrigger  release. Once everything is set, getting your poles back in the water should be super quick. The only drawback is, you have to have the same diameter line on all your reels. If you change out your line every year like I do, that shouldn't be a problem. I take all my Kokanee reels in at once when I find line on sale. For about $15 bucks a year, I can get my 10 reels all changed out. Then, take some time at home to set each release. That way, in a hot Kokanee bite, you can get things back in the water right away.

Figure out what setback your going to use that day. Some folks like the 100 foot rule. If your going down to 75 feet, then your setback will be 25 feet. If your going down to 50 feet, then your setback will be 50 feet and so on.  Later in the season when the Kokanee are at least 30 feet or deeper, I use a setback of 5-10 feet and drop to where the fish are. Then, I just circle through the school without tangling lines and limit out quickly. This is a great time to use a release with flashers on them to attract Kokanee. In any more than 40 feet back, this release will not be of any benefit.

When you are using manual downriggers, I have a great tip for you while in a hot Kokanee bite. Get some 8 oz. fishing weights, cheap wire style shower curtain clips, and some more releases .

You just attach to your line, then to the downrigger cable, and let it slide down until it stops. Voila! Your back fishing in the zone without bringing the ball all the way to the surface.

Stacking downriggers takes some practice, but it is a very effective way of putting 4 lines in the strike zone. I will be posting a how-to video soon to help you better understand the ins and outs of this tactic.

Kokanee Rods:
Kokanee have very soft mouths, so to increase the number of fish you get in the boat pick the softest rod you can afford.  This is your shock absorber that helps prevent the hooks from getting ripped out. Fiberglass is your friend here!  Cousins Tackle makes a great couple of rods.  The one I use on my boat was designed by Josh Cooper in conjunction with input from many top Kokanee anglers in the Northwest . They have four models to suit your fishing style and needs.  In my opinion they are the best Kokanee rods around and make for a more enjoyable fight!

 See the Best Kokanee Rod in action <--VIDEO LINK

If you are on a tight budget, Shakespeare also makes an ultra light rod with a fiberglass tip. I used this for many years with great success.

Kokanee Reels:
Use the lightest level wind reel you can afford. Believe it or not, a heavy reel will increase the center of gravity, and the pivot point of your rod is not as smooth (we will go into this later in "Reeling in your Catch").  Daiwa makes a great one,  Model #LEXA-LC100H and LEXA-LC100HL for all us lefty's out there.  The drag is perfect for Kokanee fishing and the extreme low profile allows you to wrap your hand around the rod and reel for that perfect pivot point.


Model #LEXA-LC100HL

Line counters are an essential part of Kokanee fishing in the early season because Kokanee are in the first 15 feet of water until the water warms up. When your boat goes over them, they scatter "like cockroaches when the light comes on".  So, we need to let our offerings set back at least 100 feet. I like to run 150-200 feet back from November until the the first week in May when the water warms up. Then, I can get a little closer to the boat. Because of the hooks I use, I have a landing rate of over 80%, most days 100% even when so far back. Remember, if you have other boats around you in the early season, the same rules apply. With all the commotion on the surface, nobody is going home with any fish, so it's time to move away from the crowds.

Also, an added benefit of using reel counters is: If you set back your lines at the same distance in the early season, when you hook into a Kokanee, just play the fish by moving your rod back and forth without reeling in. In the area of your other lines, the chaos that that Kokanee is causing will usually get his friends to strike. This tip was given to me and others by Cameron Black, the owner of "Gone Catchin Guide Service", probably one of the best Kokanee guides in the northwest. Thanks Cameron!

If you don't have the budget for a reel counter we have a great solution for you. Just take some time in the garage and count out 100', 150' and 200' feet of line and attach a different color bobber stop for each, you can see the bobber stop in the line on the reel and you have just created a poor man's line counter.

Main Line:
Use monofilament line only for Kokanee fishing, not braided line unless you are jigging for Kokanee but we will let the expert jiggers talk about that. We are not fishing for sturgeon here! We need the stretch from the monofilament to help us get the Kokanee in the boat.

Don't need them, don't want them! If you have the right rod, line, drag, technique and patience, you will have a much more enjoyable Kokanee fishing experience. Plus, the less "CRAP" on the line when going through a school of Kokanee, the less chance of spooking any wary fish away from your offerings.

Dodgers and Lake Trolls:
Dodgers are an essential tool for targeting Kokanee. Dodgers do exactly what they are named for, they dodge right and left in the water and create a sonic wave in the water that bring Kokanee in for a closer look.
There are a great number of dodgers on the market today. Some of my favorites are: The Arrow Flash, Side Winder, Black widow, Strike Zone.  Lake Trolls are not my favorite Kokanee flasher, just because the weight and drag takes away from feeling the vigorous fight that Kokanee are so famous for. I very rarely use them unless nothing else is working.

Kokanee Lures:
Most Kokanee lures on the market will catch Kokanee on a specific lake some of the time. Check with the local tackle shops for that area to see what is working and where to fish on the lake. Tackle shops like return visitors and will be happy to sell you what works. If you get some bogus info, start with Orange "Venomous Hoochie", Pink "Venomous Hoochie", and Fluorescent Orange, Pink, and Red. Chartreuse seems to work well in the early spring mornings, but each lake varies. ifish is a great resource to learn the tackle & tactics for your local lake.

The go-to hook for Kokanee fishermen/women for quite a few years has been the octopus hook size #2 and #4. But, times are a changing, and Kokanee fishing is following suite. The new and improved tactics of the best Kokanee guides in the northwest have finally been revealed. The Gamakasu "Drop Shot" hook is now the BEST Kokanee hook on the market today.

This hook design buries the hook into the Kokanee, resulting in fewer lost fish. We also Carry the VMC wide gap hooks, that are almost as great as the Gamakatsu Drop Shots.

White Shoepeg corn is the only corn to use when Kokanee fishing (see "Shoepeg Corn Tricks" on this site).

Kokanee have an incredible sense of smell that can work both for and against you. Make sure that you have plenty of Nitrile gloves on your boat. If you touch your gas can or motor with a gas or exhaust smell, you are done Kokanee fishing for the day. Always keep in mind when you are touching something, your hair (what does your shampoo or gel have in is that keep Kokanee away), your face (do you have lotion or aftershave odor that keep Kokanee away), bug spray (the same), and of course Sunscreen. Make sure all your lures, bait, dodgers, and fishing line are covered or up-wind before applying sunscreen, otherwise you might as well head for the dock.

Now that we understand that Kokanee have a great sense of smell, lets use it to our advantage. Pro-Cure has a great line of scents on the market that are killer. Wizard Kokanee Killer Korn Magic, Garlic Slam-ola, Garlic Plus, Sockeye Slayer, and many more. I have many more scent/corn tips in "Shoepeg Corn Tricks" on this site, and it will also show how to keep things organized in a hot Kokanee bite.
In the early season start with ocean scents. Later in the season, it seems that garlic & anise scents take over.

Believe it or not, leader length is where most Kokanee fishermen/women fail the course. This may be, because most lure manufactures including us at Deadly Venom Tackle, assemble lures with 3 to 4 feet of leader on the lure. If the customer can't read the fine print on the back of the package, they just tie it on and putter around the lake wondering why every one else is catching fish with the same gear but I'm not.
Well remember, we are trying to "PISS OFF" these chrome bullets. If the lure has no action and is just going in a straight line, then just sit back and enjoy the scenery because your not going home with your limit.

Hoochies are becoming the "go-to" for most lakes. Always start the day with at least one Hoochie on a rod. Hoochies need to be swung back and forth behind a dodger, even if they have a spinner in the front. A 4"-8" leader is just right to give that perfect action.
I believe this is true for all spinners on the market as well.
If you are using lake trolls, increase your leader length up to no more than 24". I like to use about 14".

Mono vs. Fluorocarbon:
We tie all our gear using 10# MAXIMA Clear.

Because I like the stiffness it has, and how it transfers the energy to the lure, also it is very durable. We use 10# test because I can catch over 200 fish on a lure without having to re-tie, due to the damage Kokanee teeth can do to the line. Also, not to mention that when I have new Kokanee anglers in my boat, we don't have to worry about line breakage once the Kokanee is jumping everywhere in the boat. Fluorocarbon, yes it is clear in the water but remember Kokanee are not leader shy, also Fluorocarbon is too brittle and will result in broken leaders, if you must use Fluorocarbon I recommend using Seagar

Kokanee are not line shy unless your jigging, because when trolling they are attacking from the rear, not from the side. I believe you could use 100# test and still catch fish.

Now that we have our proper offering in the water right in front of the Kokanee, it's time to talk about trolling speed. Kokanee seem to react better to your offerings at speeds of .9 mph to speeds as fast as 2 mph at times. Stay in that range and vary your speed, this makes the lure rise and fall. When a Kokanee hits, make a note of your speed. Was it at the increase or decrease of your speed? Then target that same scenario again.

Please make sure, for the sake all the other Kokanee fisherman/women on the lake, that you pick a straight line and stick to it. Many Kokanee fisher-people in the past have read about making S-turns and how effective this can be. Well, if you just vary your motor speed it accomplishes the same principle, but with greater results because all your lures rise and fall in the school of Kokanee at once, and this results in doubles, triples and quads on the rods. The S-turn was developed when there were only 3 or 4 people on the lake at one time fishing for Kokanee. Well times have changed! The Kokanee fishery has exploded, and yes, we can all get along. There are plenty of Kokanee out in our favorite lakes to fill a billion freezers and BBQ's, that is why most of us have no problem sharing the knowledge we have learned over the millions of hours on the water. 

Bells: Yep, I use them! When you have 4-6 rods on board and in a hot Kokanee bight, it helps a ton! This way, I can concentrate on getting poles baited and back in the water fast without having to keep my head on a swivel. Also, it helps when I'm getting the boat organized and bleeding fish. Most fishing bells on the market today suck! One I have been using for many years, is just a wooden clothes pin and a jingle bell glued on. It can be attached and removed in one second with no damage to your expensive rod$.

Reeling in your Catch: <---VIDEO LINK!
Now that you have a Kokanee on your line, it's time to get it in the boat.
The first thing to do is not panic! Grab the rod at the reel, using this as a pivot point keeping your arm and rod away from your body and gently start reeling slow and steady.

When the Kokanee goes crazy, just back off of the reeling and let him do his thing keeping tension on the fish at all times. If you need to feed him line-do it! Let the rod, line, drag and your proper pivot point do the job that they were designed to do. If the Kokanee comes straight to the surface and does the "Get Me Off This Hook Jig", shove your 7 foot rod straight down in the water to force him under. This will give him less chance of shaking off the hook.
Kokanee are the only fish I have ever seen that can touch their tail with their nose while fighting. Until you see it, it's hard to understand. This takes finesse, patience and practice, so get out there and create some great memories.

If you fish mostly by yourself, get a very light net so you can handle it with one arm easily. I use the first half of a smelt net with a regular nylon mesh net in place of the smelt net. Also, you can spray a regular nylon net with "FlexSeal" to help prevent tangled hooks in a hot Kokanee bite. No need to have a net that is more than 6 feet if you have the right gear and know how to get the Kokanee to the boat. I see guys out on the lake all the time with 8-10' nets. As far as I'm concerned, this takes all the sport out of it.

Keeping Your Catch for the "Perfect Table Fare":
It never fails, at least once a week I will see someone at the ramp or post a picture on a fishing site, with Kokanee in a cooler with NO ice or just one small reusable ice block in it.
Kokanee flesh is very susceptible to heat, it will deteriorate extremely quick. The best way to take care of all your hard work is to create an ice bath when you first get to the lake. I use 2 liter bottles filled with salt water then frozen. Salt water will hold colder temperatures longer. We keep 15 bottles in our bait freezer in the garage at all times.

Place 4 or 5, 2-liter frozen saltwater bottles in your cooler and add some lake water as soon as you get to the lake to give it time to get cool. Then, when you get your catch in the boat and rods back in the water, cut the gills to bleed the Kokanee, and slide in the freezing cold water to preserve the wonderful dark-red flesh that will hit your table later. This is after a day of Fishing when I got home, still at 31.7 degrees.  This will be perfect Table Fare!

Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way many years ago. My wife and I sat down to have dinner with some nice fat Kokanee we had caught earlier that day. It was soft and mushy, and had a funny taste we had never experienced before. I thought back at the day, and I had forgotten the Ice bottles that day and just used lake water. Well, the surface water temperature that day was 70 degrees and it was a warm sunny day with a slow bite that took a few more hours to limit out. The perfect storm of events to ruin our catch! Lesson learned, and never again will this happen in our boat!

I hope this helps make your time on the water more enjoyable with your family and friends.

Take Care and Happy Fishing
Patrick Linkenheimer
Deadly Venom Tackle