The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has tried diligently to make kokanee salmon a viable species in several of our most popular Utah fisheries. Specifically, Strawberry, Jordanelle and Starvation are now producing kokanee salmon in the 16- to 20-inch class and have joined Flaming Gorge Reservoir as excellent kokanee fisheries.
Let’s take a look at two methods to target kokanee salmon locally and at Flaming Gorge. Since kokanee salmon are caught best from boats so I won’t discuss methods to target fish from the shore.
By far, most kokanee anglers troll for their fish using downriggers, which allow precise depth presentations. The nature of kokanee salmon is to move in large schools most of the year. The exception is during the spring when plankton is literally all over the upper section (20 feet to the surface) of the water column. During this time, kokanees spread out and feed fairly shallow. As summer approaches, the salmon go deeper.
I like seeing kokanee salmon on my fish finder. They appear as a thick, black line from 20 to 80 feet deep. By that, I mean it is very difficult to see individual fish but rather the entire school appears as one thick line.
Most anglers use a dodger/squid combination to target the fish. Although each angler has their favorite rigging, I like to have a 30-inch leader between the dodger (flasher) and the squid. Then, I try to run my dodger 30 to 50 feet behind my downrigger ball (that differs greatly from angler to angler).
The colors of squids vary between chartreuse, pink and orange but the fish haven’t been too particular this spring according to angler reports.
Jigging for kokanee can be incredibly fun or exceptionally frustrating depending on the attitude of the fish. I prefer this method because I routinely jig for lake trout and can adjust to jigging for kokanees with little effort.
In the spring and through the summer, I use bright-colored spoons such as Kastmaster or P-Line versions in bright chartreuse, pink, orange or silver. Then, I watch the finder, locate the schools and drop my lure right down into the middle of them. Fishing for suspended fish can be tough but I tune my finder (increase the sensitivity) to see my lure as it sinks down the water column so when it reaches the school, I can stop it and begin to jig up and down and thus keep the lure in the middle of the fish.
The key to developing a successful jigging technique is to be a great observer. Watch other boats in the area to see how they are rigged for kokanees. Especially on Flaming Gorge, boats will pass by within a few yards of your boat and if they happen to catch a fish you will be able to see exactly what colors and methods work best on that day. One more jigging trick is to put a little corn or Berkley maggots on the treble hooks.
Here is the latest information on the kokanee fishing on Flaming Gorge, Strawberry, and Jordanelle (reports from Starvation are not promising as of yet due to the lack of water clarity).
On Flaming Gorge, anglers report catching fish between 35 and 40 feet deep along the main channel. Strawberry anglers are catching fish between 20 and 30 feet on the standard dodger/squid set up. And, on Jordanelle, trolling depths (near the dam) are 20 to 25 feet with the same dodger/squid rigs and for all three reservoirs trolling speeds are under 2 mph.
The photo accompanying this column I took at the fish cleaning station at Lucerne Marina on Flaming Gorge last Friday. Two groups of anglers were cleaning limits of kokanee salmon that (according to the successful anglers) were spread out but very willing to bite their “dodger and squid” combinations in several colors.
On several of our most popular reservoirs most every day is the day of the kokanee. Good luck, and email me with questions.