How To Fish For Kokanee

Kokanee salmon are a freshwater form of sockeye salmon. They are found in the the cold, clear waters across various lakes and reservoirs of North America. Unlike their anadromous relatives, Kokanee spend their entire lives in freshwater, making them a unique species for anglers to target. They are known for their bright silver color in the water, turning to a vibrant red hue during spawning season, which adds to their allure for fishermen.

Kokanee are known for their schooling behavior, which means where you find one, you’re likely to find many. They respond well to light tackle, including small spinners, spoons, and flies, and are particularly fond of baits like corn or artificial lures that mimic their natural food sources. Trolling at the right depth with the appropriate gear often leads to successful Kokanee fishing trips.

This guide will cover the essential aspects of kokanee fishing, including the fishing setup, the best baits and lures, effective fishing techniques, the best times to catch them, where to find them, tips for beginners, and the best fishing gear and tools.

Kokanee Fishing Setup

The most common and effective setup for catching Kokanee involves a lightweight trolling setup, as Kokanee are typically targeted while trolling in deeper water. A light to medium-light action rod, around 7 to 8 feet in length, paired with a reel spooled with 8 to 10-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line, provides the sensitivity and flexibility needed to detect the soft bites of Kokanee and manage their spirited fights without pulling the hook.

The best rig for Kokanee fishing is undoubtedly the dodger and lure combination, often accompanied by bait such as shoepeg corn. A dodger is a reflective device that creates flash and movement in the water, mimicking the action of small fish and attracting Kokanee. Attached to the dodger via a leader of 12 to 18 inches is a small, brightly colored lure or hoochie, which acts as the main attractant. The size of the gear used in this setup is critical: Dodgers typically range from 4 to 6 inches in length, while the lures or hoochies are usually 1 to 2 inches long, small enough to appeal to the Kokanee’s preference for tiny prey.

Best Bait For Kokanee

Kokanee salmon primarily feed on zooplankton, tiny aquatic organisms, in their natural freshwater habitats. This diet influences the choice of bait and lures for anglers targeting Kokanee.

While Kokanee do not typically go after live bait in the same way other game fish might, the best live bait alternative that mimics their natural food source is maggots or mealworms. These can be effective when jigging in areas where Kokanee are known to feed, especially during the winter months or in deeper water during the summer.

The best lures for Kokanee fishing include small, brightly colored spoons, spinners, and hoochies. Pink, orange, and green are particularly effective lure colors that mimic the hue of zooplankton and other small aquatic organisms. These lures are often used behind a dodger or flasher to create additional movement and attraction in the water, simulating the presence of a small school of fish or the erratic movement of Kokanee’s natural prey.

kokanee caught with dodger
kokanee caught with dodger

Kokanee Fishing Techniques

Kokanee fishing techniques share similarities with those used for salmon fishing, particularly because Kokanee are landlocked sockeye salmon. Techniques like trolling with dodgers and lures, as well as the use of specific baits, are common to both. However, the gear and approach may be lighter and more precise for Kokanee due to their smaller size and freshwater habitat. Here are the best techniques to catch a kokanee:


Trolling is the most common and effective technique for catching Kokanee. This method involves moving your boat slowly across the water to simulate the movement of Kokanee’s prey. The setup typically includes a lightweight rod and reel, equipped with a dodger or flasher followed by a lure or hoochie. The line should be 8 to 10-pound test, and the leader connecting the dodger to the lure is usually 12 to 18 inches long. Trolling is most effective in the morning or late afternoon when Kokanee are actively feeding near the surface. Adjusting the depth of your lure is crucial, as Kokanee tend to move to different depths depending on the water temperature and time of day.


Jigging is a technique that can be highly effective when Kokanee are located in deeper water, especially during the warmer months or in the winter under the ice. This method involves using a vertical presentation with a weighted jig or spoon that is dropped to the depth where fish are holding. The setup includes a medium-light rod with a sensitive tip to detect bites, spooled with lighter line to allow for a natural presentation of the jig. Jigging is most effective when you can locate a school of Kokanee on a fish finder, allowing you to target them directly. The action of jigging—lifting and dropping the rod tip—mimics the movement of Kokanee’s prey, enticing them to bite.


Drifting with bait or lures is a passive yet effective technique for catching Kokanee, especially in rivers or streams where Kokanee go to spawn. This method involves letting the current carry your bait or lure downstream, presenting it naturally to the Kokanee. A light to medium-light rod with a spinning reel and 6 to 8-pound test line is ideal for this technique. Small spinners, spoons, or flies are effective lures, and maggots or mealworms can serve as bait. Drifting is most effective in flowing waters with a moderate current, allowing the bait or lure to move through areas where Kokanee are likely to be feeding or holding.

Best Time To Catch Kokanee

  • When do Kokanee spawn? Kokanee spawn in the late summer to fall, typically from August through October.
  • Best time of day to catch Kokanee? Early morning and late evening are the best times because Kokanee come closer to the surface to feed during these cooler parts of the day.
  • Best time of year to catch Kokanee? Late spring to early fall is ideal, as water temperatures are conducive to active feeding, and kokanee are more accessible in shallower depths.


In spring, the best time to catch Kokanee is in the early morning hours. As the water begins to warm, Kokanee start moving closer to the surface to feed. Trolling with lightweight gear and using dodgers with small lures or hoochies is an effective technique. This period is optimal for anglers because Kokanee are actively feeding after the winter, making them more likely to strike.


During summer, early mornings and late evenings continue to be the prime times for Kokanee fishing. The fish tend to go deeper to find cooler waters as temperatures rise throughout the day. Trolling with downriggers to reach the appropriate depth where Kokanee are schooling is the best technique. This time of year is particularly productive as Kokanee are in peak feeding mode before spawning season.


Fall marks the beginning of the spawning season for Kokanee. The best time to catch them is still in the early morning or late evening, but fishing near their spawning grounds can increase your chances. Jigging near these areas can be very effective as Kokanee become more aggressive and territorial. This season offers the opportunity to catch Kokanee in shallower waters as they prepare for spawning.


Winter fishing for Kokanee can be challenging due to colder temperatures and the fish’s deeper holding patterns. However, ice fishing over known Kokanee schools can be very productive. Jigging with small spoons or jigs tipped with bait such as maggots or mealworms is the preferred technique. The best times are during the warmer parts of the day when Kokanee are more likely to be active.


Catching Kokanee at night can be surprisingly successful, especially during the summer when daytime temperatures are high. Kokanee can come closer to the surface at night, making them accessible to anglers using sub-surface lights to attract zooplankton and, in turn, Kokanee. Trolling slowly with glow-in-the-dark lures or setups that mimic bioluminescent prey can be particularly effective. This unique approach takes advantage of the Kokanee’s natural feeding habits when traditional daytime fishing might be less productive.

Where To Find Kokanee

The best locations for Kokanee fishing in the US include Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho, Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah/Wyoming, and Lake Tahoe in California/Nevada. Each of these locations offers unique opportunities for anglers to target Kokanee, with specific techniques proving most effective depending on the environment.

Lake Pend Oreille

Lake Pend Oreille is renowned for its Kokanee population. The most effective technique for catching Kokanee here is trolling with downriggers. Anglers often use dodgers paired with pink or orange hoochies to mimic the Kokanee’s natural prey. Early morning or late evening are the best times to fish, especially during the summer and fall months when Kokanee are more actively feeding.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir

At Flaming Gorge Reservoir, jigging becomes a highly effective method for catching Kokanee, especially in the winter months when ice fishing is popular. Using lightweight jigs tipped with mealworms or maggots can yield great results. During the open water season, trolling with small spoons or spinners at various depths can help locate and catch Kokanee as they move throughout the water column.

Lake Tahoe

In Lake Tahoe, trolling is again the preferred method to catch Kokanee. Anglers find success using light tackle setups with dodgers and small lures or hoochies, particularly in shades of green and yellow. The clear, deep waters of Lake Tahoe require adjusting the depth of the troll to find where Kokanee are schooling, with early morning being the most productive time to fish.

Tips To Catch Kokanee For Beginners

  • Start with a light to medium-light action rod, around 7 to 8 feet long, suitable for feeling the light bite of a Kokanee.
  • Pair your rod with a spinning or trolling reel spooled with 8 to 10-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line for the best combination of sensitivity and strength.
  • Use a simple trolling setup: a dodger attached 12 to 18 inches ahead of a small, brightly colored lure or hoochie. This mimics the Kokanee’s natural prey and attracts their attention.
  • For bait, white shoepeg corn is highly effective and easy for beginners to use. Hook one or two kernels on the hook of your lure or hoochie to add scent and entice bites.
  • To set up a hook for Kokanee, tie a small swivel to the end of your main line to prevent line twist, then attach a leader (12 to 18 inches long) to the swivel on one end and your lure or hoochie on the other. The dodger should be attached to the main line just above the swivel.
  • Keep your trolling speed slow, around 1 to 1.5 miles per hour, to mimic the slow movement of the Kokanee’s prey.
  • Adjust your trolling depth according to the time of year and time of day, as Kokanee can be found at different depths. Using a downrigger or weighted line can help you reach the right depth.
  • Start fishing early in the morning or late in the evening when Kokanee are most active and closer to the surface.
  • Be patient and keep an eye on your rod tip for the subtle bite of a Kokanee. They often have a soft mouth, so a gentle hook set is crucial to avoid pulling the hook out.
  • Experiment with different colors and depths until you find what works best in your specific fishing location. Kokanee can be particular about colors and depth depending on the conditions of the day.

Best Kokanee Fishing Gear And Tools

The best fishing gear for Kokanee encompasses a specialized set of equipment designed to enhance the angler’s success in targeting this specific species. Each component, from the rod to the fish finder, plays a crucial role in effectively locating and catching Kokanee.

Fishing Rod

The ideal fishing rod for Kokanee is a light to medium-light action rod, measuring between 7 to 8 feet in length. This rod length and action provide the necessary sensitivity to detect the often subtle bites of Kokanee and the flexibility required to absorb the energy of their fights without pulling the hook. A longer rod also assists in managing the additional hardware often used in Kokanee fishing, such as dodgers and flashers, allowing for better control over the lure presentation.

Fishing Line

For Kokanee fishing, the line choice significantly affects both lure action and bite detection. A monofilament or fluorocarbon line with a test strength of 8 to 10 pounds strikes the perfect balance between being lightweight enough for a natural lure presentation and strong enough to handle the occasional larger catch. Fluorocarbon, in particular, offers the advantage of being less visible underwater, which can be beneficial in the clear waters where Kokanee are often found.

Fishing Reel

A suitable fishing reel for Kokanee should match the rod in terms of size and balance, typically a spinning or trolling reel that can smoothly handle the 8 to 10-pound test line. The reel must have a smooth drag system to manage the delicate mouths of Kokanee, which can easily tear if the drag is too tight or jerky. A reel that allows for fine adjustments to the drag setting will enable anglers to maintain the right tension on the line throughout the fight.

Fish Finder

A fish finder is an invaluable tool for Kokanee fishing, as it allows anglers to locate schools of fish and determine the depth at which they are holding. The ideal fish finder for targeting Kokanee will have a high-resolution display to accurately identify kokanee schools and include down and side-imaging features to provide a clear view of the underwater environment. Advanced features like GPS mapping can also help mark successful fishing spots for future reference.