TROLLING FOR KOKANEE
school of fishing
Without a doubt, trolling is the most common technique for catching kokanee. Follow these tips to strengthen your trolling game.
Finding the fish
For more tips on zeroing in on the kokanee, check out how to locate kokanee.
Kokanee like cold water and typically feed on zooplankton, which are generally not found closer to the surface. Because of this, kokanee are usually found between 20 to 60 feet deep. However they are not always deep, when the water temperature is cool you will somtimes find kokanee only a few feet below the surface. Taking a peek at a lake's depth charts before you go can also help you to identify pockets of deeper water which might be potential kokanee fishing holes.
A fish finder is a great tool in the anglers toolbox, because it will show you quickly exactly how deep the fish are. Unfortunately, no tool is perfect, and if fish are swimming near the surface, often you will mark little to no fish because they will swim away before your fish finder has a chance to detect them. If you are not marking fish, either you haven't found the schools yet, or the fish are close to the surface. If you have been searching for a while without marking fish, try fishing with a top line in the 5 to 15 foot range.
Trying to locate the fish without a fish finder is harder, but can be done. It never hurts to ask other anglers what has been successful for them, you will find most anglers are happy to share. If you are not using a fish finder, try starting at 20 feet. This is the upper range for where kokanee are most typically found. If you are not getting any action at 20 feet, lower your line by 5 feet in depth every 15 minutes until you find the fish. If you hit 60 feet deep without any luck, you may want to try another spot, or maybe it is the odd time when the fish are close to the surface, and you need to try just a few feet down. If you are running more than one rod, I would suggest starting with one of your rods in the 5 to 15 foot range while you are working different depths with your other rod.
When increasing your depth, you should always count how much line you are putting out, whether it is by counting how many one-foot pulls you've let out, or the number of revolutions reeling in reverse. When you start catching fish, you will want to know how far to let your line back out to hit the sweet spot again.
Getting your lines deep
I like to use downriggers because they allow you to precisely determine how deep your lure is, and custom-set to exactly where the fish are. A downrigger is essentially a heavy weight that can be lowered from the boat to a specific depth, and allows you to keep your lure at the desired depth by clipping the line to a quick release clip that is attached to the downrigger cable. If your fish finder tells you that the fish are 50 feet deep, your downrigger will let you put your lure right in front of them.
Fish can be scared off by the sounds and sight of the boat and engine, so if you are fishing at about 20 feet deep you will probably want to let out at least 50 feet of line (this distance is often referred to as your "setback") before you clip to your downrigger's quick release clip. This will ensure that your lure is trailing behind your boat at a good distance.
If you're not using a downrigger, a simple slip weight can also be effective. I prefer a 1 or 2 ounce slip weight for ease of use. Spooling your reel with a heavier lead core line is another method to add enough weight to get your lures deep.
Although slip weights and heavy lead core line are effective, zeroing in on the correct depth can be trickier. Remember that without a downrigger, the amount of line you release will not drop straight down from the boat once you start trolling, but will instead be dragged behind you at a diagonal angle that depends on your speed and the weight and drag of the gear you are using. To make sure your lure gets deep enough, a rough guideline is to use 4 to 5 times the amount of line than the depth you wish to achieve. This means you should release about 20 - 25 feet of line to increase depth by five feet.
Trolling speeds and techniques
Kokanee are an aggressive fish by nature. They will usually strike if they think their prey might get away. For this reason, it is a good idea to troll somewhat erratically. Your trolling speed should be between 1 to 2 MPH, with several turns in both directions. My favourite trolling speed is 1.3 MPH. Throw in a couple of rod pulls as well for good measure. You can do this even if you are clipped to a downrigger- just don’t pull too hard or you’ll find yourself resetting your line back into the quick release downrigger clip.
What tackle to use when trolling for kokanee
For more tips on setting up your rod, check out how to set up your rod.
The most common kokanee setup- and in my experience, the most effective- is an inline flasher followed by a small lure tipped with bait. The flashers are not required, but they will definitely improve your likelihood of catching kokanee.
Traditional flashers are heavy but very effective. The classic Ford Fender or a Gibbs Willow Leaf are very good at attracting fish.
Newer flashers are lighter with less drag and also very effective. There are several types of dodgers such as the Sling Blades and the Dog Tail Dodgers. Each design of dodger has different actions and comes in a vast array of colours. You can even get creative: I fashioned a flasher out of an old blue and chrome Ford emblem by drilling holes on either end and adding swivels. Guess what? It worked!
Lures and baits
Spinners like Chromes kokanee spinners or Spin N Glows create flash, movement, and vibration in the water to attract the fish, and are great when tipped with either pink maggots (real or synthetic), earth worms, or shoe peg corn.
Another good kokanee lure is a small Hoochie. There are several types and colours. The Chromes hoochie has the addition of a spinner blade and glow beads. Because kokanee are an aggressive fish, using a lure with a lot of action can help to attract attention from your kokanee and entice a bite. Good additions to your hoochies include a Wiggle Bill, an action disc, or Smile Blades.
Lastly, you have the small spoons such as small Apex Hot Spots and Dick Nites.
Adding scents and bait to these lures is never a bad idea. Just be sure not to add so much bait that it hinders the action of the lure.
One thing for sure is that kokanee prefer very bright colours. Pinks, greens and oranges seem to be their favourites. I try to mix some glow beads in on all of my lures. Keep in mind that all colours have different ranges that can be seen underwater. When fishing deeper water, the colour choice becomes more important, and this is where UV and glow lures outshine the competition.
Leader types and lengths
The two types of leaders I will use is mono filament line or flouro carbon line. I usually will use an 12lb leader but it does not seem to matter to much as kokanee do not seem to be line shy. Be aware that, if you choose a leader with a lighter pound test, you will need to retie your leaders more frequently due to damage from the kokanee over time.
The length of your leader will depend on the flasher and the lure. With a hoochie, I like to use a short 10 - 12 inch leader with a dodger. The short leader will give the hoochie more action while it follows the dodger's movement. For all other lures, I like to use 12 - 16 inches of leader. I have found that shorter leaders are generally best for kokanee. If I am trout fishing I will often add an additional 4 or 5 inches of leader.