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Tips for fishing kokanee salmon in spring, summer

Tips for fishing kokanee salmon in spring, summer

(Brad Kerr)

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THE GREAT OUTDOORS — Kokanee salmon are a highly sought-after fish in Utah reservoirs. These fish are not that difficult to catch when one follows a few steps for locating and getting lures down to them.

Kokanee salmon are the landlocked strain of the sockeye salmon, which run to sea before spawning. Kokanee spawn largely in tributary streams and can be easily seen in the fall when they sport their bright red color with green heads. Other than spawning season, kokanee typically have a blueish green back that is offset by silvery sides and a slightly forked-tail.

Here are a few tips for having success in catching kokanee salmon:

Where to go

Good-sized kokanee are abundant in Strawberry and Flaming Gorge Reservoirs. Often, the fish in these areas are 3 pounds or more. Smaller kokanee are also available in northern Utah waters like Porcupine and Causey Reservoirs. Sevier County’s Fish Lake also offers kokanee, after it was introduced there by the Division of Wildlife Resources.

Techniques, lures and line to use

A boat is a must for locating kokanee salmon, as they tend to suspend over deep water and structural patterns. Trolling is the popular technique for pursuing this fish species.

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Getting your lures down to the fish really requires downriggers, but you’ll see some anglers using lead-line to get deep enough to be in the target range. When using lead-core line, you simply watch your rod for an obvious fish on the line. Your pole will start bouncing and jumping and if you set the drag low enough, you’ll hear that familiar scream from the reel, alerting you to a strike. You’ll need to experiment with increments of line (designated by color) to locate an active area below the surface.

Downriggers will allow you to put your lure at an exact depth where the salmon are suspended. The clip release on the wire, attached to your weight of 6 to 8 pounds, will allow your line to detach from the release, and you’ll be able to fight the fish on the rod alone. Lead can deaden the fight of the fish, as you tend to be spending more energy on dragging in that heavy line. But with a downrigger, any pole you use will let you fight the fish without any restrictions or unnecessary impediments.

Not uncommon is also using a vertical jigging along the rock walls and deep falloffs at Flaming Gorge. Using a variety of spoons can produce kokanees when they are fished aggressively with up/down lifting motions. The strikes tend to come on the fall of the lure, and one must be watching carefully to detect a stop in the fall or a sudden twitch of the line.

Such lures as squids (sometimes tipped with a variety of bait by some anglers), needlefish, Tazmanian devils and other similar lures are effective for catching kokanee. Most anglers like to run a dodger (a big blade flash attractor) up the line a foot or so to make their offering more visible.

Using sonar

Sonar technology is amazing and allows you to pinpoint the fish at any depth. The fish finder units of today come with optional GPS, for marking waypoints where fish have been found to be biting, a water temperature gauge, side-view finding options, specific water maps, split-screen 3-D capability, large touch-screen displays and internet connections, just to name a few. Color screens are commonplace, and the clarity and accuracy of such devices allows you to fish where the fish are.

Some units attach permanently to the boat, while other portable units give you the option of removing the fish finder completely after each use. Numerous brands are on the market and you can pay anywhere between $300 to $5,000 for a unit that matches your wants and desires. Lowrance, Humminbird, Garman and Simrad are a few of the locator brands on the market. They certainly make fishing where the fish are much easier and more accurate because you’ll know how deep the salmon are in relation to the bottom.

Cooking your kokanee

For those who love good fish, kokanee salmon are a tasty delicacy that can be cooked up in numerous ways. Grilling on the barbecue is certainly popular, although baked and fried fish are common practices as well. Frying kokanee in bacon grease adds a particularly good flavor, and is quick to prepare.

Fish don't take long to cook and a watchful eye will tell you when they are cooked throughout.


Kokanee salmon fishing is good during the spring and early summer, but they can be caught all season long by those anglers willing to seek them out. Occasionally, they are caught by those focusing on trout, but because of the depths they commonly reside in, these are not preferred methods of those who target kokanee salmon.

Give it a try this summer season— you’ll be hooked after some success and a tasty meal of kokanee salmon and will want to go back for more. Be sure to check regulations on limits, as they are different depending upon the water you are fishing.


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