Central Cal’s Lake McClure Kokanee Bite Peaking

By Chris Shaffer | 08/14/2013

Even though I travel more than 250 days a year, I’ve lived in Southern California my entire life. Prior to my 10 year career at Pautzke Bait I spend endless hours on nearly every freshwater fishery in the Golden State, so when longtime friend and guide Danny Layne pleaded with me to make a flame run from the San Fernando Valley to Lake McClure, located in the Motherlode I knew something was up.

Layne and I have fished together annually for more than a decade. We’ve had good days and bad. He’s invited me to McClure once prior. And, never had he pushed me like this to come up to fish anywhere in his 100-mile radius of waters he fishes. Normally, we target New Melones, Don Pedro or Hogan. This time he only wanted to fish McClure. He left no other options on the table.


Most likely because of its’ remoteness, McClure isn’t the choice fishery for most Central Californians. Meanwhile with Melones’ kokanee looking like starved, 13-inch, two-year old fish and Don Pedro in the doldrums of summer, Layne told me something special was taking place at McClure. I’m not a huge fan of targeting kokanee, but willingly made the four-hour drive.

While much of the country probably doesn’t know what a kokanee is (Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Idaho and a little bit of New Mexico, we know you are in the loop) kokanee anglers are rabid in Central and Northern California. It’s a big deal. As is what’s going on a McClure right now. McClure’s fish aren’t as large, on average, as those in Berryessa, but they are impressive compared to everything else in Central Cal.


A few years back I remember seeing more than 100 boats trolling for kokes at Melones. When we dropped lines at McClure we were one of two boats working the steep bank. By the end of the day we counted eight other boats total that were trolling. Word hadn’t seeped out yet or people just don’t seem to care.

McClure’s current batch of kokes isn’t going to set any state records. On the other hand, three limits of two-pound, fat, 15-inch fish is something to brag about, especially with the recent decline in the Motherlode’s once heralded kokanee population. It’s a rare year where McClure is standing much taller than Don Pedro and Melones.


What’s different this year than previous years? Layne, a veteran guide, who’s fished here for a few decades, credits smaller kokanee plants in recent years and a healthy shad population. Whatever is going on, it’s a great place for kokanee anglers to be this summer, and with the right bait catching five-fish limits shouldn’t be an issue when trolling alongside the dam or A-Frame.


For those of you who know Layne, operator of Fish ‘n Dan’s Guide Service, it’s obvious he’s a creature of habit. He’s been trolling the same half-dozen waters for a few decades and knows them well. And, when it comes to kokanee fishing he’s harassed me for a decade about making a line of shoepeg corn for our brand. FireCorn is made with sweet corn. Layne is that anal about his corn.

A few weeks earlier we sent Layne 48 jars of corn, a wish he’s presented us for as long as I can remember. They were unlabeled and prototypes for our new Shoepeg Can-O-Corn, a product soon to be on the street in the next few weeks. It’s marked with the same recipe of FireCorn, but in the shoepeg form. All three limits came on the new Shoepeg Can-O-Corn. FireCorn is working, too, as we saw in other boats.


There’s still about a month left in McClure’s kokanee fishery. And, anglers trolling roughly 50-70 feet down with small micro hoochies, small Sock-Eye Slammers and Ex-Cel spoons behind Sling Blades, Sep’s sidekicks or Vance’s dodgers can all expect to do well. Layne tips all his baits with Pautzke shoepeg Can-0-Corn, but adds his own scent to the corn, most notably with krill, anise, vanilla or garlic.


Editor’s Note: Chris Shaffer is the Director of Operations for Pautzke Bait Company. Pautzke pro Danny Layne operates Fish n Dan’s Guide Service and provides Lake McClure kokanee, rainbow trout and inland Chinook excursions. For more info please visit www.fishndans.com.