Utah's Game Fish: Kokanee Salmo

Published: Thursday, Aug. 24 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT


Description:

Most of the year the fish have a blue or silver back, and silver sides. There are small dots on the back and tail. When the fish is 3 or 4 years of age, it goes through a metamorphosis where it turns a crimson red and begins its spawning ritual. The males get a humped back, a hooked jaw and a pronounced black head. The females also turn a reddish color.

Characteristics

The kokanee salmon is actually a dwarf landlocked form of the sockeye salmon. It is, however, a true member of the salmon family. The kokanee salmon was brought to Utah from Washington in 1922 and introduced into Bear Lake. In 1937, it was planted in Strawberry Reservoir. It was restocked into Strawberry after the 1990 treatment. During the spawn season, usually in late August and early September, the fish will pair up — one male, one female — and head for either a stream or a suitable spawning area in a lake. The fish make a redd or nest in the gravel, lay and fertilize the eggs, and die. The meat on the kokanee is considered to be among the better tasting within the salmon family. During the spawn the meat is soft and mushy and loses its food value. As for its game qualities, what this fish lacks in size it makes up for in fight. While not in the spawn, the kokanee typically use the entire water column as they feed on plankton and are often seen breaking the surface.

Size

Typically, the fish runs between 8 and 12 inches. A 2-pound fish is considered large, but it can weight up to 5 pounds. The world record is 9 pounds, 6 ounces and was recently caught in Alaska. The Utah record is 6 pounds. The fish was caught in Strawberry Reservoir in 1995.

Location

Kokanee are pelagic fish. They do not relate to the bottom or to structure like trout. They prefer to cruise above deep water, filter feeding on plankton (small, shrimplike crustaceans) much like whales in the open ocean. Because of these traits, kokanee cannot live everywhere trout do, and are therefore not widely stocked. Major kokanee fisheries are Flaming Gorge, Strawberry, Causey and Porcupine reservoirs, and in Moon Lake.

Bait/lures

Though most of a kokanee's diet is plankton, they will feed on small baits and attack lures. Kokanee can be caught on worms, PowerBait and salmon eggs fished above the bottom. Use small amounts of bait and small hooks as kokanee have small throats and will not go for large baits. They can also be caught by jigging, especially in the fall when they school vertically. Best jigs for kokanee are Buzz Bombs, Zingers, Slab Spoons, Kastmasters and Crippled Herring in 1/2- to 2-ounce sizes. Jib colors are pink, orange, white, glow and silver. The problem in catching kokanee on bait or by jigging is finding the fish. They travel about and can be hard to locate. For this reason, most successful fishermen troll. As with baits and jibs, trolling lures should be small and brightly colored. Hot pink, orange, red and fluor. Chartreuse lures like needlefish, Kokanee King, Apex, Triple Teaser or Wedding Ring Spinner are good choices. Tipping the lure with a small chunk of worm adds appeal. Kokanee cruise at greater depths than trout, usually, ranging from 30 up to as much as 80 feet, so watch the fish finder for schools of fish deeper than usual. Mark the spot and try different techniques until something works.

Note: Kokanee are often stocked as forage fish for larger fish because they eat plankton and convert the small biological organisms to food than be utilized by the larger fish.


Bryon Gunderson, Fish Tech Outfitters

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