by Jack Naves
For some folks, late summer and autumn kokanee fishing can be intimidating. The fish go deep and often reject typical trolling methods. For me, it’s my favorite time of year to target these pigmy landlocked sockeye salmon. Let’s take a quick look at a couple of different techniques used to conquer late season kokanee.
Jigging, or also referred to as spooning, can be a great late season tactic. To jig for kokanee you want to use a stiff bass fishing type rod, not a limber trolling rod. On the rod, load a spinning or casting reel with 20-pound test braided line. It’s crucial that you use braided line so you can detect the strikes.
Tie your braid to a swivel and then run a four-foot long 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader down to your jig. The stiff leader helps to keep the jig vertical, so be sure to tie directly to the eye of the jig without using any snaps or split rings.
Use a solid lead jig like a Gibbs Minnow, Crippled Herring, Kastmaster, Kokanator, or Buzz-Bomb. The size will depend on the depth, wind, and size of the fish. A one or two ounce jig is normally all you need. Hot pink, fluorescent orange, chartreuse, and pearl are good color choices. Once you have your jig tied up, you are ready to hit the lake.
Late season kokanee will typically stage in deep water outside of creek or river mouths where they will spawn. In some lakes, it will be in front of a dam. Big kokanee schools don’t typically form until late in the morning, so hitting the water at dawn isn’t needed when jigging. Once you are on the water, electronics play a crucial role in finding fish. Look for huge schools of kokanee holding in deep water.
I’m not talking about a few scattered fish here and there. You want to see schools that look like giant bait balls. It might be helpful to troll until you zero in on where the kokanee are schooling up tight. Once you find them, it’s time to lower your jig! Oh yeah, and don’t forget to smear some crayfish gel onto your lure for good measure.
Slowly drop your jig to the top of the kokanee school. You can use a line counter, or what I usually do is just watch the jig going down on the sonar unit. The cool thing about this method is that you can actually see fish rising up out the school to nail your jig! If a fish doesn’t grab it on the way down, stop your lure at the top of the school and start jigging.
Jigging employs a yo-yo motion that makes the lure dart up and flutter down. Start by placing your rod tip a few inches above the waterline. Quickly pop the rod tip up about six to twelve inches, and then follow the jig back down to the starting point. It is vital that you stay in controlled contact with the jig as it falls – don’t let the line go slack on the way down. The up-motion gets their attention, but they almost always hit the jig on the way down.
The strike will be very light – almost undetectable to some. Set the hook at the slightest tick, tap, bump, slack line, or change in feel. At first, you will miss a lot of strikes. After a few hours of jigging, you will start to figure out what a bite feel like. Try progressing down through the school in ten-foot intervals if you don’t get bit within a few minutes.
One mistake I see people make is using too high of a swinging motion. You don’t need to jerk your lure up to the sky. Six to eighteen inches of vertical movement is enough. If you notice that you are snagging fish in the belly, you are probably swinging too high. Don’t be afraid to alter your tempo, but too many high swings and your trolling buddies will start to call you a snagger!
One of the toughest parts about jigging is controlling the boat in the wind. An electric motor is almost mandatory. Having a motor that automatically holds your position with spot lock or autopilot is a real plus. You need to keep your jig vertical, so if your line starts drifting out to the side you need to reposition the boat. If you can’t stay vertical, switch to a heavier jig. When it gets too windy, it’s time to pack away the jigging outfits and start trolling.
That gets us to our next technique – trolling. Most of you kokanee anglers out there are already well versed in trolling. However, there are a few changes you can make to adjust to late season kokanee.
First off, try switching your spinners or squids for plugs such as Hot Spot Apexes or Pro-Troll Kokanee Killers. I like to run these lures sixteen inches behind a small Sling Blade type dodger. I put a lot of bend into the dodger so it really kicks hard.
The next change is in speed. I will stay under one mile-per-hour all day when working late season kokanee schools. When you see a school, try making sharp turns, killing the motor, or speed bursts to get them to strike. Don’t leave fish to find fish – keep working the schools until they bite.
Table fare for late season kokanee is no different from river salmon. Throw the brined fillets into a smoker with some coarse-ground pepper and you are in business. I’ll see you out there on the water looking for some hook-jawed sockeyes!