Kokanee Fishing without Down Riggers @ Paul Lake Kamloops

A picture perfect Mid July Paul Lake Kokanee

Located just a mere 15min drive outside of Kamloops is Paul Lake. Stocked heavily by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC with various Kokanee strains since 2013, it was previously a trout only lake but now holds good numbers of both and is a great place to take the kids or family out for an action packed day. This is one lake where one can usually get their daily limits of good healthy table fare with ease. After all we are not ashamed to admit it, we are not just catch and release trout fly fishers, though that is our main stay, we are also anglers of all techniques, sportsmen and women, hunters, gatherers, meat-eaters and outdoor enthusiasts! Getting kids out of the house, off their devices and into the outdoors is something our youth should experience more often.

It is now mid July, the Kamloops area trout fishing has slowed and though we have had a cooler and much wetter summer than normal many lake temperatures are still reaching near lethal limits for catch and release fisheries. So we decided to give the trout a little bit of a well deserved break and focus on some other fishing opportunities close to home. Exit trout = Enter Kokanee! One thing about Kokanee is they don't survive catch and release very well, the c and r mortality rates are significantly higher than that of trout, it is essentially a meat fishery, but my nephew was visiting in town and wanted to go fishing and loves to eat salmon, so I figured I knew just the place for lots of action to keep him entertained as well as harvest some tasty miniature versions of land-locked sockeye salmon!

Kokanee are well known for their deep red flesh which comes primarily from a rich diet of zooplankton and makes for excellent eating as well as good angling opportunities as they are a fun and different species to target but can also be very difficult fish to land. The "blue-backs" fight hard and tend to do many jumps, rolls and backflips near the net, combined these with a soft-mouthed fish many are lost. Typically I would say your in to lose as many as you catch if not many more. For this reason a very soft or slow action rod can be a key to success as well as keeping the drags of our reels dialed down significantly which will absorb the shock of the fish as it fights for freedom. I highly recommend shorter and lighter rods as it makes for a more sensitive feel and better fight with the fish as most of the fish we caught averaged between 12-14" inches with some smaller and a few bigger ones mixed in. These sizes are pretty typical of most Kokanee in most lakes (however, BC does hold many exceptions to this) and surely a heavy long stiff rod better suited for big fish would make for a very dull angling experience.

Your typical Paul Lake Cookie Cutter Koke

Many people find Kokanee a challenging fish to catch, and because of this are discouraged much in part as they feel they need down riggers to effectively target this schooling fish that can be found at all different depths in the lake. While down riggers are no doubt a great kokanee fishing tool to have I can guarantee you, you don't need them to be successful. This past weekend at Paul lake is a perfect example as myself and the kids went out both Saturday and Sunday morning and each outing went home with our 3 limits of fish (a total of 15 kokanee) within 2 hours of fishing! I had only planned to go out just once, but my nephew had so much fun the first day that he was eager to go again and needless to say my nephew is now hooked on fishing and can't wait to come out with us again, which is what its is all about! There is simply not enough promotion of family fishing and people out there taking kids fishing these days. It is a sad reality I see on the lakes all the time. I wish I had someone around to take me out and do these things more often when I was younger. Well that is part of the reason I decided to write this post, as I feel the gear fishing appeals more to families and a kid at almost any age can operate a spinning rod!

The Early Morning Haul @ Paul Lake

So here’s how we do it, First off... leave the gang trolls at home! Do they work? yes! This is how we learned to catch Kokanee years ago and caught many this way, however, you will find your fighting the weight of heavy hardware more than the fish. The heavy blades rotating and spinning in the water creates such resistance reeling in a small fish is far more work than it needs to be and is just dead weight. Half the time after the initial bite, unless you have a larger fish on you don't know if the fish is there or not, I can't count the amount of times I 've heard "is he on?...I think he's on?...no he's gone?...oh, oh, he's still on!?". Not to mention the spinning action of a ford fender or willow leaf for whatever reason tends to be less productive for kokanee VS the side to side action of a dodger.

Though I am no expert or seasoned Kokanee angler, if I was I would probably own at least one down rigger by now but this is what has worked fairly consistently and exceptionally for us, that is, without the use of a downrigger. The 3 part system consists of a led Moochie weight from 1 to 3 oz, a dodger/ flasher followed by a lure such as a hoochie, needlefish, humdinger, kokanee king, wedding band etc. Though we find hoochies accompanied with some sort of blade or propeller to work best it's not as important as depth, speed and scent. Kokanee are curious creatures that like "shiny", ”flashy” “colorful" and "action". Pink and Chartuese seem to be most effective but any vibrant colors get their attention from oranges to purples especially good combinations of color. Nobody really understands what makes these plankton eaters chase and bite what they do, we just know that it works! As a general rule, I tend to tie my moochie weight 2ft above my flasher or dodger so that it doesn't impede the action of the dodger. Also, if you are using hoochies, as a general rule I tend to tie them on leaders no longer than 1ft below the dodger in order to give the hoochie great action in conjuction with the dodger (anywhere from 8-12" is ideal but I will shoot for 10"). Finally, if you are using a lure such as a humdinger you should tie it 2ft below the dodger otherwise it's designed action in the water will not work properly as it should.

Kokanee are a schooling fish and for success first one needs to locate the schools, Paul lake in particular, this is an easy thing to do as they are literally everywhere but sometimes, as was the case on sunday, you may find better luck in shallower water along the edges of the lake or perhaps more will congregate in the midst of the lake. Find the fish and with the use of a fish/depth finder figure out whereabouts in the water column the are schooling. Depending on speed and amount of line you let out behind the boat will effect how deep you fish (we troll as slow as our 6hp motor will possibly go and generally let out line for a slow ten second count to keep things consistent) a one ounce weight will get you down about 15ft (approximately), a 2 oz weight is somewhere between 25-35ft and a 3oz is probably closer to 60-70 feet. I usually start with one rod having a one ounce weight and the other a 2oz weight until we find some consistency and then change whichever rod is needed to the appropriate weight. But typically this time of year most kokanee will be fished best with a 2oz weight. These are also sold in .5 sizes so you can adjust depth in between if you like. But keep in mind Kokanee will change their depths to chase your presentation. Just because a fish is at 40ft doesn't mean they wont come up out of their way to hit your lure at 25-30ft. Please note that these numbers are not exact, I base my calculations merely on my experience and there is definitely room for error however I believe these to be fairly accurate, that is to the best of my knowledge and have worked well for us. When it comes to trolling, we try to troll generally quite slow but also in an erratic behavior, lots of zig-zagging, circles, turns and even stop and go's as in many instances it's that quick pause, moment your lure speeds up, drops down or comes up on a turn that triggers the fish to strike as they may have been following it for some time before committing to it. Finally a big key to success is scent. Kokanee have an incredible sense of smell and though we have used synthetic maggots and various baits and caught Kokanee on all of them we recently started to dye our own canned corn and soak different colors in both garlic powder and tuna juice. While many seasoned kokanee anglers swear by garlic corn, I was surprised to find the "bloody tuna" concoction out-fishing the garlic 4 to 1 on our last few outings and even tried switching baits between the rods to see if it was in fact the scent that was catching and not the gear we were using. The results of our very un-scientific studies seemed to credit our success with the tuna juice which we drained out of a can at home we used for making sandwiches for lunch. This set up will also intercept the odd rainbow trout as you will see in a photo provided down further as you continue to read on.