Chelan Kokanee Turning Heads This Year

By Brad Wagner | 04/21/2014

As I back my Wooldridge sled off the trailer at the launch and look into the crystal clear water of Lake Chelan my heart starts to race. I know what’s in store. Fresh chrome bright kokanee as large as 20 inches are already here this year! And, there’s nothing las exciting as catching fish after fish in a lake where you can see the downrigger ball 40 feet down.

I have the privilege of fishing this wonderful lake at least five days a week in April and May. I’m still impressed every day with its’ clarity and the size and  numbers of kokanee available when the bite is on. It also provides quality rainbow and lake trout fishing. At more than 1,500 feet deep, Lake Chelan is very deep, but most of the fish are in a small portion of the water column.

I fish Chelan with Cannon downriggers and troll 30-100 feet down with Fetha Styx dr 803 downrigger kokanee rods. They are light and fun to catch these feisty fish on and can also handle the larger lake trout when we get those bonus fish. You’ll want a light rod, because most of the time you’ll be handling lots of fish. We are able to keep 10 kokanee and five rainbows.

Our go-to set up consists of a small dodger and a small hoochie skirt with tandem size 4 or 6 hooks and a 12-inch leader. We always tip the skirts with Pautzke Fire Corn. I usually use the same color of Fire Corn as the skirt but sometimes alternating colors works better. Like using pink Fire Corn on an orange skirt or orange Fire Corn on a pink skirt. Meanwhile, if you are marking fish on your fish finder and not getting bit try adjusting leader length, hoochie colors and different colors of Fire Corn.

I also use a lot of krill, often pouring Pautzke Liquid Krill on every lure before I let it out. And, also and after every fish, every time I get bit. Another critical thing to focus on when kokanee fishing is speed. I like to troll between 1.1 and 1.7 mph. On the other hand, if you aren’t getting bit do adjust your speed. Sometimes if they are biting light, as kokanee will do, I speed up and get them to stick on the hook a little better as they will strike it more aggressively.

While kokanee are the main attraction for me right now, don’t be afraid to search for rainbows. These are not your average pale meat rainbows. They are quality fish with bright, red meat and are feisty! To target the trout I look for shallower bays and edges of the lake with depths of 20 to 40 feet and use the same gear as I run for kokanee.

Editor’s Note: Brad Wagner will be targeting kokanee on  Lake Chelan through May before migrating to the Icicle and Wenatchee Rivers for spring chinook. To learn more about his trips please visit or