Catch tasty Kokanee with angling tips from an expert

The Vancouver ColumbianAugust 11, 2013 

A catch of kokanee — landlocked sockeye salmon — is shown at Yale Reservoir on the North Fork of the Lewis River near Cougar. The reservoir has been yielding lots of kokanee, averaging 10 to 11 inches long, this summer. Mount St. Helens is visible on the horizon.


Jeremy Jahn says lakes and reservoirs containing kokanee generally have plenty of the tasty landlocked sockeye salmon for anglers to catch.

So, his message to anglers: Lighten up and share your information.

“If you’re having a good day and somebody’s having a bad day, make their day by helping them out,” said Jahn of Salem, whose other moniker is “Kokanee Kid.”

Jahn even has a website ( with a mission statement: “To convert all fishermen into kokanee addicts.”

Although not a guide, Jahn does sell some kokanee tackle and gear. He also freely gives out his cellphone number to chat with anyone about kokanee fishing.

Jahn has not fished at Southwest Washington’s two kokanee waters – Merwin and Yale reservoirs on the North Fork of the Lewis River. So far, he’s limited himself to Oregon.

But Jahn offered his insights from fishing in Oregon at the May meeting of Southwest Washington Anglers, a Vancouver, Wash., sportsmen’s group.

And while not specific to Merwin and Yale, his suggestions offer plenty of ideas to test locally.

Jahn said he believes kokanee strike tackle because it irritates them, not because they are hungry, although he readily admits a lure without corn on the hook will catch very little.

“They’re not like a rainbow thinking it is something they want to eat,” he said.

Since the goal is to irritate fish, gear that works erratically in the water is best.

Certain lures, like artificial squid called hoochies, do not generate their own action and need to be paired with a dodger, Jahn said.

Just be sure to tie the leaders short.

“Eight inches is as long as you want to go with a hoochie behind a dodger,” he said. “I’ve fished them as short as 4 inches.”

Many lures create their own action. Among them are Shasta Tackle’s Wiggle Hoochies, Mack’s Wedding Ring spinners, other spinners and Yakima Bait’s Spin-N-Glo.

Because they create their own action, they can be fished behind “lake trolls,” which are several spinner blades and a rudder. But, Jahn said, lures such as a spinner also can be fished behind a dodger.

“Some say a spinner won’t rotate properly behind a dodger,” he said. “In my opinion, that’s awesome. I want that spinner to kind of flicker, flutter, make some kind of oddball turn and be more of an irritant to that fish.”

Here are several other pieces of advice from Jahn:

Depth: Kokanee have a large air bladder and show up well with good electronics. “They are very easy to spot on your sonar,” he said. “If you fish 5 to 10 feet below the school you usually end up picking up bigger kokanee … The bigger ones are usually holding below the school.”

Trolling speed: For “longlining” (trolling without downriggers), he suggested 0.8-1.2 miles per hour. When using downriggers, try from 0.8-1.9 mph.

“Turns are extremely important when longlining,” Jahn said. “It does a couple of things for you. A turn is going to drop gear on one side of the boat. If you’re turning your boat toward the right, the gear on the right-hand side is going to drop in the water and it’s going to raise the stuff on the left-hand side of the boat. It’s also going to slow down the stuff on the right and speed up the stuff on the left. That causes automatic erratic action.”

Colors: His top five favorites are silver, gold, pink, orange and chartreuse.

“As soon as you find that magic combination, switch out all your rods to it as fast as possible and ride it. That can last 10 minutes or all day. It can last into the next day.”

Jahn said he does not switch dodger colors as often as lure colors. A gold-silver dodger is a good color to begin with.

When using lake trolls, have a 28-inch leader from the end of the troll to the lure.

Corn: Jahn, like most kokanee anglers, prefers Green Giant white shoepeg corn. He uses a combination of products to toughen and scent the corn.

“I have the fat part of the corn on the hook with the part that was on the cob facing directly back,” he said. “It makes the lure work better in the water. … If you use scent with your corn, it will slowly time-release it into the water instead of it being flushed out.”

While Jahn contends kokanee strike out of irritation, not hunger, he always tips his lures with corn.

“I believe the scent is the irritant on the corn … I’m not quite sure what they think it is, but if you’re fishing without corn you’re really going to have a hard time catching any.”

Lake trolls: A “Cousin Carl” lake troll by Half Fast is his favorite.

“It has a lot of drag and is not much fun, but is really effective if you want meat in the boat.”

Table fare: Kokanee are great eating and need to be on ice after the catch.

“Keep your kokanee cold,” he said. “Kokanee are a very fragile fish. If you squeeze them too hard you can actually get marks in the meat. If you keep them outside of ice, the bones will separate from the fillets. It’s a sockeye salmon, one of the best fish around if you take care of it.”

All about kokanee

Species Name: Oncorhynchus nerka

Size range: Average is 9-12 inches. Kokanee can grow up to 20 inches in quality populations.

State Record: 6.25 pounds, caught by Clarence F. Rief on Lake Roosevelt, June 26, 2003

Description: Kokanee are the non-anadromous (non-migrating) form of sockeye salmon. Like all salmon, they die after spawning. Kokanee have blue backs and silver sides. They also lack distinct dark spots on their backs and tail fins. When compared to trout, they have finer scales, larger eyes and deeply forked tail.

Kokanee habitat: Kokanee are open water feeders that target plankton and prefer depths where the water temperature is near 50 degrees. If this is in a lake that stratifies, they may be occupying a very narrow depth band. They might be found in deep water or close to the surface, depending on conditions.

Top waters: Some of the most popular kokanee lakes in the state are Stevens, Alder, American, Merwin, Chelan, Samish, Keechelus, Kachess, Mason, Summit, Banks and Roosevelt.

Other area lakes: Anglers also can catch kokanee in these lakes. Pierce County: Clear. Thurston: Clear and Ward. Mason: Devereaux, Cushman and Lost. King: Angle, Deep, Meridian, Sammamish, Washington, Langlois and Wilderness.

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