Our Man In Canada
March 4th, 2002

Kokanee!

By Brian Chan
From Fly Fishing Canada, Published by Johnson Borman Publishers


Kokanee are landlocked descendants of sockeye salmon and even share the Latin designation Oncorhynchus nerka. They are generally found in large, relatively unproductive lakes or reservoirs where their food base is a range of zooplanton that occures at varying depths. Zooplankton are those tiny, red and green or translucent organisms often seem suspended or twitching through the water.

Typically, these fish are 1/2 - 1 1/2 lb (225-675 g), and the most popular fishing tactic consists of trolling a small, fluorescent green or pink spoon or plug, trailing it behind a small willow-leaf troll or similar attractor. The lure may also be baited with worms or maggots. Definitely not much there of interest to fly fishers, but bear with me - it get better . . .

Fisheries' managers have worked with the Provincial Fish Culture Program toward developing a small-lakes kokanee stocking program in the southern and center British Columbia Interior. Individual lakes are assessed to determine their ability to support kokanee and maintain a sport fishery. All of these waters are nutrient rich and support high densities of zooplankton, plus an abundance of major aquatic invertebrates that form the diet of rainbow trout and other salmonids present in the system. Kokanee have flourished in these water and with no detrimental effects to existing rainbow or char fisheries.

Fly caught! A major surprise to anglers was the switch in diet made by introduced kokanee. Once large enough, they began moving from zooplankton to larger invertebrates like chironomid larvae and pupae and the nymphs of may flies and damsel flies. This came to light when fly fishers targeting rainbow trout began catching kokanee. To make things even more interesting, these fish were attaining weights in excess of 3 lb. (1.4 kg). Their acrobatic fighting abilities and excellent taste as table fare caught the attention of ever the most diehard rainbow anglers. Word spread quickly, and many devoted kokanee fly fishers now frequent these waters.

In large lakes, kokanee are usually found in deep water as they follow the daily vertical migration patterns of zooplankton. They have, however, adapted amazingly well to small to small lakes. Feeding on chironomids, may flies and damsel flies means spending time in the shallow shoal zones of a lake, which is why fly fishers are successful at intercepting them.

Kokanee are a schooling species, so angling success depends on finding a school and staying with it. On small lakes this means paying particular attention to the location of insect emergences. Keeping a sharp lookout for chironomid or may fly adults, then fishing directly over these hatches provides the best chances of finding kokanee (and rainbows). As swallows, nighthawks and gulls are very adapted at locating recent insect hatches, binoculars are an essential tool for searching out potential action spots.

Fly-fishing tactics are similar to those used for rainbow trout, but a major consideration is that the soft mouths of kokanee require more care while playing them. This poses a problem as they basically go crazy once hooked. Kokanee jump, make long runs and always seem to know where the anchor ropes are handing. To increase the percentage of fish landed, tie in a 6" (15 cm) length of Shock Gum about halfway down the leader. This "shock absorber" really comes into play when a kokanee is close enough to see the boat and starts a series of twisting roll-overs in a final attempt to get free.

The same chironomid, may fly and damsel fly patterns used for trout will work for kokanee, but always ensure the hooks are extra sharp. Their takes are often very soft or subtle, so it is essential that a straight-line connection between fly line and leader be maintained at all times during a retrieve. This means taking a few minutes before starting to fish to stretch out any coils or memory in your line or leader. Also, during retrieves, remember to point your rod tip right at the water to maintain that straight-line connection.

When fishing from a boat, always use the double-anchoring system - one from the bow and one from the stern - so your boat remains in the same position despite changes in wind direction Floating, intermediate-sinking and fast-sinking lines all work at various times. By midsummer, when water temperatures on the shoals become too warm for kokanee, they concentrate in deeper areas just off the drop-off zones. In these cases, fish finders become an important tool in locating them.

Fly Fishing Canada

Some kokanee lakes to consider include Bridge, Horse and Deka in the vicinity of 100 Mile House in the Cariboo, and Stump Lake located south of the city of Kamloops. These lakes are large enough that a cartopper with a small outboard are required to move quickly from shoal to shoal.

A final tip: Kokanee are ultra-cautious in shallow water, so if they are feeding on chironomid pupa in water less than about 16' (5 m) deep, consider using a strike indicator. You must pay close attention the indicator as a soft take may register as only a slight sideways movement. When a bright-silver fish rockets 5" (1.5 m) into the air to confirm the strike, get ready for a truly memorable scrap. ~ Brian Chan

Credits: From Fly Fishing Canada, From Coast to Coast to Coast, By Outdoor Writers of Canada, Published by Johnson Gorman Publishers. We appreciate use permission!

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