FishingMagician E-Letter #22
Spring is a wonderful time of year in Central Washington. It is the beginning of a
whole new season of fishing for a wide range of species that many have waited for all
winter long. It is the rebirth of our region. Plants, insects and animals that have been
dormant over the chilly months come alive again as the sun warms the region. Water
temperatures climb in our lakes and streams, and the inhabitants begin to feed. Trout rise
to hatching bugs, and bass and walleye begin to forage for small bait fish and other
sources of food that signal the beginning of prime fishing time.
One of the more popular species in our area is kokanee. One of the big surprises
in the early season was the great fishing for large kokanee at Lake Chelan. This lake is
just one of many that offer good fishing for these land-locked sockeye. Here is where
you can find kokanee in our area lakes, and when it is best to try fishing for them.
Where to Find Kokanee Fishing Throughout Central Washington
Kokanee continue to gain in popularity with anglers, and we are fortunate to have
many different lakes that offer good fishing for them. Some have kokanee of state-record
size while others provide fast action for smaller fish. They all have their particular appeal
and attract anglers from all over the state and beyond.
I have contacted the Department of Fish and Wildlife fish managers or biologist
throughout Central Washington and asked them to identify the lakes in their region that
are inhabited by kokanee, what size anglers can expect them to be and when would be the
best time to fish for them.
Here is what I learned, listed alphabetically, by county:
There is only one lake is Chelan County that offers kokanee fishing. Lake Chelan
has been a long-time favorite of anglers. The lake has not been known for large fish.
Since there were good numbers of them it was a popular fishery. Starting last spring
kokanee of up to 17 inches became common. Most thought that this was a one-time thing
and we would perhaps never see kokanee of this size in Chelan again. However,
beginning in March of this year they came back again. Anglers are enjoying very good
fishing for large kokanee, and this could continue through June or even later.
Kokanee fishing is typically concentrated in the lower basin, below Wapato Point,
at landmarks known as Rocky Point, Peterson’s Resort and Lakeside. Be prepared to fish
deep, up to 130 feet, until the main schools move into the shallows at Lakeside. When
the bulk of the kokanee run reaches this area good catches can be had in water as shallow
as 20 feet. Don’t be surprised if you also encounter lake trout or even a king when
fishing for kokanee on Lake Chelan.
Banks Lake: Banks Lake is planted with 1.2 million baby kokanee every year,
but only a few local anglers know where to find the schools of these fish. The where and
when to fish for them is mostly a mystery. The fish are typically 12 to 14 inches with an
occasional fish to 16 inches. The department is experimenting with where and when they
release kokanee into Banks and are also introducing some from Lake Roosevelt. You
may encounter some clipped fish if you successfully find kokanee in Banks.
Billy Clapp: This reservoir near Soap Lake got a lot of attention in 2009 when it
produced good catches of kokanee to 18 inches. Trollers flocked to Billy Clapp to take
advantage of this bumper crop of big fish, and had good success fishing near the basalt
island at the lower end. Fish were found at 70 feet. Since then it has been mediocre at
best. The occasional big fish is taken, but rarely. Kokanee populations in Billy Clapp are
the result of “fall out” from Banks Lake, and it is not known to have naturally spawned
fish. If it is going to be good again anglers will know by May. There is always a
contingent of anglers that test the waters at Billy Clapp in the early season to see if the
big fish have come back. It is always a “wait and see” proposition.
When the kokanee fishing is on they’re big at Billy Clapp
Deep Lake: This long and narrow lake is found just passed the Sun Lake State
Park above Park Lake. The lake is annually planted with 15 to 20 thousand 2-inch
kokanee. It receives a lot of pressure on the opening weekend of the general lowland
lake trout season opener, but few target the kokanee at this time. Fishing for kokanee is
better in May and June. Those that target the kokanee make very good catches of them.
The fish in Deep Lake are not large, averaging 10 inches, with a few to 12 inches.
Lake Roosevelt: Fans of really big kokanee concentrate their efforts on this big
impoundment above Grand Coulee Dam. The current state record for kokanee was set
here in 2003 at 6 ¼ pounds! I have talked to anglers that claim to have caught fish bigger
than this on Roosevelt and it is possible. Catches of kokanee weighing from 2 to 4
pounds are not uncommon. Fishing can be very good out of Spring Canyon in the early
to late winter when the fish are shallow, but anglers should be aware that they are spooky
at this time and many use side planers to catch them. As the water warms the fish go
deeper and fishing for them at 60 feet and deeper is necessary. The reservoir is planted
with 250 to 300 thousand 8- to 9-inch fish in late May. Fishing for these planters can be
very good in September and October when they are often 12 to 14 inches. The lake is
also planted with 3 million kokanee fry in June of each year. Survival of these small fish
is not great. The really big kokanee in Lake Roosevelt are naturally spawned fish, but
where they come from is a mystery.
Buffalo Lake: I am mentioning this lake here, as it is on the Colville Indian
Reservation just 10 miles from Grand Coulee Dam. It has a very good population of
naturally-spawned kokanee. The size of the fish will vary from season to season. I have
caught kokanee of a fat 13 inches in late May, which are much larger by the fall. Last
year they averaged about 11 inches, and are expected to be larger this season.
Buffalo Lake on Colville Reservation can be Great!
Kachess Lake: This is a large reservoir near Easton, west of Cle Elum. It is
planted with kokanee every year, to supplement natural production. Anglers will need to
search out schools of the fish, and a fish finder would be very handy. Kokanee aren’t too
big here, mostly 9 or 10 inches with some larger. Fishing picks up after the reservoir fills
and warms, usually in May.
Keechelus Lake: This is the lake that you see from I-90 after you have crossed
over Snoqualmie Pass. Kokanee fishing here is very similar to that in Kachess. Fishing
begins after the impoundment has filled and warmed a bit, typically in May. Kokanee are
planted here too, and also spawn naturally in the lake. Fish are more “robust” here
compared to Kachess and are mostly 9 or 10 inches, with some larger.
Bonaparte Lake: This small lake is located northeast of Tonasket and has been a
local favorite for kokanee for many years. Limit numbers of fish ranging in size from 11
to 14 inches are possible at this scenic lake. It is planted annually with 15 to 20 kokanee.
Conconully Lake: This is known primarily as a trout and largemouth bass lake,
but catches of kokanee are possible. It is planted with a few fish every year, and if
anglers would target kokanee specifically there is a chance that they could get some 11-
to 12-inch fish.
Conconully Reservoir: Kokanee naturally spawn in Salmon Creek that enters
this “lower lake”. Conconully Reservoir is a very popular trout lake, but anglers that
focus on kokanee do make decent catches of them. Expect fish of 11 to 12 inches here.
Anglers should find the best fishing for kokanee beginning in May or June on both of the
Palmer Lake: Palmer Lake, which is north of Tonasket, produced spectacular
catches of kokanee to 18 inches a couple of years ago and then the size of the fish
dropped off dramatically. This is not the only lake in the region that has gone through a
“cycle” of both size and number in the region. Lake Chelan is definitely on the up turn,
and Palmer is expected to be regaining its position as one of the better kokanee lakes in
North Central Washington. Good catch rates are planned on this year with fish of 11 to
14 inches most common, but larger fish possible. There should be lots of three-year-olds
in Palmer this year. Anglers are asked to report catches of clipped fish to the department.
The kokanee bite can start as early as March here, with good fishing through June.
Patterson Lake: This small lake near Winthrop has been planted with kokanee
for three or four years, and most anglers don’t know that they are even in the lake. Fish
should be mostly 10 to 11 inches and limits possible. The best fishing for kokanee is
expected to be in May and June.
Bumping Lake: Located northwest of Yakima toward Chinook Pass. The
outflow is the Bumping River and it flows into the Naches. The lake has good numbers
of small kokanee. Most are 8 to 10 inches. The water in the lake is very cold and the
kokanee fishing doesn’t usually begin until late May.
Rimrock Lake: This reservoir is south of Bumping Lake and the outflow is the
Tieton River. The lake is described as being loaded with kokanee. The fish are not large,
mostly 9 to 11 inches, and the limit is a generous 16 fish per day. There is no planting
here. All the fish are naturally spawned. Fishing here begins no earlier than May. This is
the only east-side lake that I am aware of where anglers still fish for the kokanee.
There you are fifteen different lakes that offer kokanee fishing. I think that you
will find one or two that will satisfy your need to catch these tasty fish. No matter where
you are in Eastern Washington you won’t be far from one of these lakes.
I want to remind everyone to consult the fishing regulations as there are some
special rules for fishing kokanee on some of these lakes. Most fall under the state general
rules for kokanee with a five-fish limit, but other lakes vary widely from that. Also,
Buffalo Lake is on the Colville Reservation and requires a Tribal Permit to fish.
I could talk about kokanee fishing techniques, but these often vary widely from
lake to lake, too. I would check with the local sporting goods store for advice, and if
none is located nearby, try your tried and true methods.
It is no surprise that kokanee fishing is gaining in popularity. These fish not only
provide great sport, their table quality is something special. If you are new to the sport of
kokanee fishing you should give it a try. The effort has many rewards. Fresh or smoked
kokanee is just one of them!
Kokanee Tackle Tips
Kokanee anglers, like other fishing enthusiasts for a particular species, have
tackle boxes crammed with specialized gear. When they hit the water they will have a
large assortment of lures of different styles, and other items that are tailored for catching
these fish. Anyone that is new to sport and walks into their local sporting goods store
will stare in awe at the variety of do das that all say “kokanee” on their packaging. I
can’t begin to explain it all, but I can give you some hints based on my own experience.
Hopefully this will steer you in the right direction when you begin accumulating
equipment to fish for kokanee.
One of the most important elements of the whole approach to kokanee fishing is
the rod. Kokanee have extremely “soft” mouths. They can tear a hook out much easier
than other fish and you have to have this in mind when you select a rod. Pick one with a
very soft or “slow” action. The rod has to be very limber and at the same time have
enough backbone to hold up under the stress of being used with downriggers. Some
anglers prefer very long, flexible rods to use as shock absorbers, while others opt for the
newer, short versions made specifically for kokanee fishing. When you have the right
rod and play your fish with an even and steady retrieve you will not lose as many fish,
even without a snubber.
When selecting a reel keep in mind that it must have good smooth drag. I have
always used bait casting style reels that enough line capacity with 10-pound test line to
fish as deep as 100 feet. A smooth drag and flexible rod will help put more fish in the
cooler. I have seen some anglers using spinning rods and reels, so it can be done, but I
prefer bait casters.
On the main line there are some options to consider before you add your lure. In
the old days I used to use the “Jack O Diamonds” gang trolls. These were very effective,
but are very heavy and create a lot of drag in the water. Mack’s Lure came out with their
Flash Lite trolls and this solved the weight problem. These trolls have Mylar blades that
have very little drag, but still produce a bright flash in the water to attract fish. They
I also like to use small trout dodgers. I like the very small ones as they cause very
little drag and don’t tear out as many hooks as larger models. Of course these come in a
gazzilion colors, and I have a bunch of different ones in my box. I have bright silver and
bright silver with the crystal inlay. I have silver and bronze with dimples and without.
My favorite is the chartreuse and white. I guess it’s the contrasting color that makes
them work so well. I catch fish on the others, too, but this is the one I personally prefer.
Now then, we’re down to what to put on the end of your line. This is the fun part.
I began kokanee fishing with a simple, single hook Mack’s Lure Wedding Ring spinner
and caught a bunch of fish on them. They still work, too, but of course we all have to try
new things. Mack’s Lure also makes a Double Whammy and a Kokanee Pro that I like
primarily because they are tied with two hooks. Having a double hook rig can really help
get more fish in the boat. Then they came out with the Cha Cha Squidder, which has
very small hoochies and double hooks. This one works, too. There are a lot of squidder
rigs out there and I have found them to be very effective. I have had very good luck with
the R&K Spinners version. I like either a bright pink or orange with the squidders, and
have found purple to be an excellent color as well. Some of these squidders have either
the smile blade or a metal spinner and both work most of the time. The R&K has no
blade at all and they are working great. You can also buy the components and tie up your
own versions of squidders and have lots of color options.
Most of these lures come with a long length of leader in the pack. The R&Ks
come with just 12 inches of leader and I tie them on right out of the pack. Even the very
small trout dodgers will give these lures a good “kick” when trolled. The other day we
compared leaders that we were using and they ranged from 12 to 24 inches. I wouldn’t
go any longer than that and not any shorter either. Most of these come with stout leader
material, which adds to the action of the lure. I used to use 6-pound test on Lake Chelan
and lost a lot of gear when a mackinaw or Chinook hit, as they will here. I now don’t go
below 10-pound. I recently was broken off on Lake Chelan, and my leader package said
it was tied with 13.9-pound test. Never saw the fish. I am a big fan of fluorocarbon
leaders for all of my fishing, and in shallow water this material could be effective when
fishing for kokanee.
Also, before I put my lures into the water I always add a kernel or two of white
shoe peg corn to each hook. Don’t overload the hooks with bait to the point that it spoils
the action of the lure. Some times I stain the corn a purple or pink color, but just plain
white seems to work fine. I also add scent to the container, rather than splash it on.
When I reach the fishing grounds I am glued to the depth sounder to find where
the fish are holding. That will determine how deep I run the riggers. I put out from 25 to
50 feet of line behind the clip, depending on how shallow I am running. I can run short
when the fish are deep, but sometimes further back if the fish are finicky. I usually troll
at about 1 mph on my GPS, but have fished as fast as 1.7 mph.
A couple of other things I have along when kokanee fishing. I have a net with a
six-foot handle, and I often wish it was longer. Kokanee will go nuts right when you get
them up to the boat. Having a long handled net has helped me get more of them in the
cooler. I also have plenty of ice along. These fish can get soft quickly and bleeding them
and getting them on ice and keeping them cold will really help keep their table quality at
a premium. It would be a shame to have these tasty fish spoil in the boat or the trip
This should give you some help when trying to decide what kind of gear to get
when you plan on taking on kokanee in our region’s lakes. These fish are well worth the
effort. Even the smaller ones found in many of our lakes are fun to catch and they are
undeniably the best eaters we can catch. So, gear up and get after ‘em!
To get a tune up kokanee fishing this season plan on attending a seminar at Town
Ford in East Wenatchee on Thursday, May 23rd. Bobbie Loomis of Macks Lure will be
there to share his expertise. Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service will be
there, too, to talk about spring salmon fishing on the Icicle River.
Trout Fishing Great Throughout the Region!
I did a survey of just a few of the lakes in the region on the first day of the season.
As predicted the fishing was excellent. Ice left our area lakes earlier than usual and trout
have been feeding and aggressive. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has realized the
value of our inland fisheries and has changed their strategy on the planting program.
They still put good numbers of fry into lakes that offer good growth rates and few
predators, but boosted the size of the trout they plant prior to the season. Instead of the 6-
to 8-inch “catchables” much larger fish are being introduced in the spring, and many
more “jumbos” or triploids of over a pound are going into the lakes. I saw the results
during my survey. Larger juveniles are being caught and carryovers are very large. For
the most part I saw 13- to 14-inch fish on stringers and many 18- to 20-inch trout on
many of the lakes. It was good to see lakes like Wapato and Jameson giving anglers the
kind of thrill that they haven’t seen in a while.
Fly fishers are already planning trips to some of the best quality lakes in the
region. Dry Falls Lake has already treated fly anglers to excellent fishing, and others,
like Blue Lake in the Sinlahekin Valley and Chopaka in the hills above Palmer Lake are
next on their lists. These Okanogan County lakes should offer double digit catches of
trout even larger than those found in Dry Falls. A lake that is often ignored soon after the
March 1st opener, Dusty Lake near Quincy, should be even better now. It is very chilly
when it opens and as the water warms can be best just a little later in the spring.
Salmon anglers can look forward to a good season on the Icicle again this year.
Numbers won’t be huge, but there may be some larger fish in the system due to less tribal
netting and sport fishing in the lower river. Look for the Icicle to open sometime around
the middle of May. The Department of Fish and Wildlife also hopes to open the
Wenatchee River to spring salmon fishing this season. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
My highlight so far this spring has been my trip to Belize. My wife Eileen and I
were joined by eight other anglers, mostly couples, and it was terrific. We not only had
very good fishing for bonefish and permit, we had a great time. The people that came
along were wonderful and I look forward to next year.
My next plan is to take another group to Costa Rica the first week in December.
The goal is to catch billfish on a fly, something that my buddy Dan Ross is famous for
and he will be assisting me down there. He gives me reports of double digit numbers of
sails taken on a fly per day, and he guarantees roosterfish, too. Roosters get big in
Golfito, where we are headed. I have photos of roosters of 100 pounds! Watch for
announcements about the trip on my web site or reports, or feel free to e-mail for details.
I think I have half the spots taken already, so let me know if you are interested. You
won’t want to miss this one!
I have been really enjoying myself in my new 2025 Discovery from Kingfisher
and Bob Feil Boats and motors. This is a real fishing machine and will be great for the
salmon season this summer. I hope to see you on the water and look forward to an
excellent summer-run season. We won’t get as many sockeye in our area as last year, but
there will still be good numbers of them. Look for details about the seminar on summerrun
salmon and sockeye fishing at Town Ford on Thursday, June 20th, in future reports.