Lake Chelan Kicking Out Jumbo Kokanee

By Anton Jones | 05/08/2013

Following a banner year in 2012 Lake Chelan kokanee is the talk of Northwest anglers this spring. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen 15-17 inch jumbo kokanee like these.

Kokanee are dwarfed, landlocked sockeye salmon and widespread in Northwest lakes. Generally filter feeders, they make a living feeding on phytoplankton and zooplankton, and their size ranges drastically.  In some lakes mature fish fail to breach eight inches. Meanwhile, Lake Wallowa in Oregon produced the world record, a 9.7-pound fish caught in June of 2010.


Wherever kokanee are found they are greatly sought after by anglers because they provide exquisite table fare.  Additionally, when you match the gear to them, they are acrobatic and energetic fighters.

Kokanee were introduced to Chelan in about 1910. By 1970, the population became stunted and abundant, and liberal 25-fish limits were instated. Most kokanee then were 6-9 inches. Fortunately, in 1974, mysis shrimp were released causing the number of kokanee to decrease. The mysis outcompeted the kokanee for the zooplankton which both feed on. Then in rapid succession Chinook and lake trout were introduced, thus placing kokanee under pressure again.


When I started to fish Lake Chelan for kokanee in the mid 1990’s the lake mostly produced nine to 12-inch fish. I felt that numbers were strong. Catching five-fish limits was fairly easy. Then in 2009 we had an incredible year for numbers. That year, I took Erik Schoen (a graduate student from the University of Washington) out to catch kokanee for research. We bagged 53 fish in about three hours and lost twice that many. In 2010 we mirrored 2009. However, 2011 was an abysmal year as only a few small fish showed. Oddly enough, 2012 produced 14-17 inch fish, similar to what we are seeing this year.

While catching Kokanee is not rocket science, this year does demand some attention. First is location.  Most of the fish are being caught in depths from 50 to 100 feet deep so far (as of mid April in 2013).  People are catching them at those depths outside of Lakeside, off of Rocky Point, off of Minneapolis Beach, along the face of Mill Bay, by the Monument and up by the Yacht Club.


We are catching Kokanee trolling at speeds of 1 to 1.5 mph.  Our guides are trolling Mack’s Lures Double D Dodgers (in the 0000 size) with a 16-inch leader to a Mack’s Mini Cha Cha Squidder (orange has been our main producer) tipped with natural and yellow Pautzke’s Fire Corn. We’ve also caught fish using orange and red Fire Corn.  Other regulars have caught plenty of fish on the venerable Wedding Ring, again baited with Fire Corn.


As you develop a trolling pattern in a certain area, note where the concentrations are on your sonar.  I highly recommend that once you get bit in a location that you immediately turn and go back through that same area. These fish are finicky and sudden in the way they turn on and turn off. You have to hit them while they are biting.


Editor’s Note: Jones, and his wife, enjoys kokanee lightly grilled with nothing more than a sprinkle of seasoning salt and sweet basil. Jones owns Darrell & Dad’s Guide Service. For more info on his kokanee trips please visit: