Tahoe Kokanee Showing Big This Year

By Chris Shaffer | 09/22/2013

Mike Nielsen of Tahoe Topliners and I have been fishing together for 17 years. And ironically it’s been that long since I last dropped a jig for kokanee in Lake Tahoe. Last week was a reminder of how much fun late season kokanee fishing can be on one of North America’s most stunning lakes.

It’s been an interesting year on Tahoe. Earlier this summer a new state record kokanee was caught here, and after many years of getting excited when two-pound fish showed, Nielsen has seen a few kokanee more than four pounds late this summer and fall. We, unfortunately, didn’t catch any of those, but did manage some nice fish.


Expect a wide range of size classes. While there are some four pounders around they aren’t the norm. There’s small 10-12 inch fish, 12-14 inch fish and then those greater than 15. Catching all of them is common. Seems there’s a few year classes mixed in.


Tahoe’s kokanee tend to stage in front of Taylor Creek as they prepare to spawn in late September and early October. It’s common for massive schools of fish to form from the surface on down 90 feet. While some anglers troll for them, jigging is optimal method this time of year.


Not surprising, many anglers are confused as to why Tahoe’s kokanee are red in September. Many question why we are targeting what they believe are spawned out fish. The red kokanee aren’t spawned. In fact, they haven’t even entered tributaries yet. Meanwhile, they do sport hook jaws and rhubarb colored sides, yet still have pink meat and maintain their feisty, energetic nature.

Fishing in September for kokanee can be interesting on Tahoe. Nielsen drops mostly Bomber Slab spoons doused with Pautzke Liquid Krill. I’ve known for years Nielsen is a huge YUM crawfish scent fan, but he uses cases of the krill in September. Depending on how deep the school of kokanee is he’ll either work the jig inches off the bottom or suspended.


Either way, action comes quick and often. Catching 25 fish between four anglers in an hour or two is common. These are great fish to smoke and also an opportunity to bring kids on a trip where frequent action is common. Anglers can keep five per person.


The trick is being on the water early. The kokanee bite often arrives a 30 minutes before sunrise and expires by 9 a.m. Sure they can be caught all day. Nevertheless, it slows drastically by mid-morning. Tahoe’s kokanee bite is destined to expire by the end of the month, which leaves a few days to cash in on the action, like we did.

Editor’s Note: Mike Nielsen operates Tahoe Topliners Guide Service out of the Tahoe Keys. For info on his high action kokanee trips please visit http://www.tahoetopliners.com/.