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Indian Valley's Trophy Kokanee

Indian Valley's Trophy Kokanee

Take the road less traveled to this remote coastal foothill impoundment for California's largest freshwater sockeye salmon. (May 2006)

Dan Tschannen of Cool busted this 15 1/2-inch kokanee in front of the Indian Valley Reservoir Dam using a No. 1 pearl/chartreuse tiger Needlefish. Photo by Bill Lentz.

It was a beautiful but breezy Lake County spring morning as Dan Tschannen and I launched my boat into cold water stained an olive tinge from recent run-off. The breeze was from the north so I decided to steer the vessel toward a wind-protected point on the west side of the lake about a mile out from the ramp. We motored past the big point, made a U-turn, dropped the lines in, and started trolling with the wind.

Tschannen let out a dodger-Needlefish combo with a 1/2-ounce weight while I attached two lines to a downrigger, lowering one lure down 28 feet, and the other 18.

We immediately started marking fish on the electronic graph. As we passed the point, my top rod pumped twice and released from the 'rigger.

"There's one," I exclaimed eagerly, jumping from my seat to engage the ultralight stick.

The fish was on fire! It made several awe-inspiring leaps and long runs before tiring and finally succumbing to the net.

"Big kokanee!" Tschannen said as I pulled the hook loose from the 15 1/2-inch chromer.

"Yeah," I replied, "and its only March!"

Four months later, in August 2005, kokanee that measured an amazing 19 3/4 inches were caught at Indian Valley Reservoir (IVR). In past years, however, IVR's kokes have exceeded 20 inches and weighed more than 3 pounds -- testament to the lake's tremendous amount of plankton and freshwater shrimp.

Rich Tipton of Lucky Strike Charters (at has been guiding fishermen on IVR for kokanee and rainbow trout since 1999, and is known as the lake's fishing guru. "You can quote me on this," he announced. "It's the best fishing lake in Northern California . . . it's maintained strictly for fishing."

For IVR kokanee, Tipton prefers using Sep's Dodgers in either pink or chartreuse, combined with a variety of lures from homemade spinners to the new Radical Glow mini tubes in pink and chartreuse.

"I usually run pink in the morning and switch to chartreuse in the afternoon," said Tipton. "I've also done well using orange and black Uncle Larry's (spinners) on overcast days." (Continued)

Tipton is a firm believer in hooks tipped with white shoe peg corn, and using scents on his lures. "Garlic has done real well for me," he said. "Anise is another good scent."

Tschannen and I continued our quest for kokanee limits. We were trolling toward the west shoreline when my bottom rod suddenly yanked downward. The fish fought hard and, unlike the first koke, this one stayed deep.

"This one's got some weight to him," I told Tschannen. "The French Ticklure does it again!" What makes that special is that I make that commercially produced spinner. The 17-inch, 2-pound whopper had hit an orange/green version with a French-style nickel blade.

We continued trolling, and Tschannen finally got his first IVR kokanee in the boat -- another big landlocked sockeye for such an early date in the season. The size 1 Needlefish in white/chartreuse tiger turned out to be Tschannen's best lure that day. We picked up two more kokes while trolling 100 yards out from the oak-studded western shoreline.

"It's a tremendous fishery," says Gary Coe, president of Kokanee Power (at, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing sockeye and Chinook salmon in California's inland waters. "Troll IVR at 1 to 1.2 mph. I'm sold on Pro Troll's Kokanee Killer in pinks and oranges." Coe also uses Apex, hoochies, and firetiger Uncle Larry's. He prefers running green Vance's Dodgers in front of his lures.

"I run a longer leader," he said. "The number of fish (I catch) decreases, but the size increases" with a longer leader. Tschannen and I noticed the same thing at IVR. He was using a 4-foot leader between dodger and lure, and I had to lengthen to about a 3-foot leader.

We landed a few more fish in front of the dam by trolling close to the west and east corners. If you do this, watch your depth and be prepared to bring your offerings up quickly so that they don't snag the bottom in shallower water.

A school of kokes can usually be found about a quarter-mile straight out from the south shore boat ramp. That's where Tschannen and I filled the rest of our limits on that great afternoon. Our kokanee averaged 15 1/2 inches and most were caught in the top 20 feet of water.

Catching limits of IVR kokanee is easiest from March to May. Koke fishing usually slows in the summer, but bigger fish can be caught at depths of 25 to 50 feet. The bite usually picks up by September, when the largest kokes of the season, up to 3 pounds, can be caught. These trophy fish will be down 50 to 70 feet.

When IVR was built, the trees in the North Cache Creek valley were left standing. Now wrapped around the arms of that timber are many lures and downrigger weights from unsuspecting trollers. Watch your graph! Most of the south end of the lake is tree-free.


Indian Valley's rich food base sustains vast amounts of baitfish that serve a great bass fishery, as well as the lake's huge Eagle Lake-strain rainbow trout. Tipton trolls for the hefty 'bows, which can rapidly grow to 5 pounds, by top-lining small minnow-imitating lures such as Needlefish and Little Cleos.

Of trout, said Tipton, "The best time to fish for them is during the late fall and winter, right after it rains. I'll run up to the north end and find the river channel, and troll right down the middle (of the lake). I'll usually run a white Little Cleo about 100 feet behind the boat at about 2 mph. I'll also run Sep's Grubs behind a copper/silver sidekick (dodger). The white/chartreuse grub has been the best color."

Florida-strain largemouth bass to 15 pounds have been caught at IVR. Fish the coves and flooded timber on the lake's north end by drop-shotting plastic worms, or casting white and chartreuse spinnerbaits.

Look for smallmouth bass in the rocks off the dam, in Long Canyon Cove on the west side of the lake, and up in Cache Creek. Throw silver or gold Rapalas, gold Crocodiles, crawdad Wee Warts, white Rooster Tails, or small

white spinnerbaits.

Lunker catfish to 30 pounds prowl IVR's waters. (The lake record is 39 pounds.) You can catch them on mackerel, chicken liver and night crawlers.

Bob Watson, who maintains the IVR store, campground and boat launch site, says to look for catfish by the launch and spillway in October and November, and to fish with salmon roe if you can get it. "They're feeding on the spawned-out kokanee there," said Watson. "They are clean fish, and great eating."

Crappie can be caught year 'round at IVR, but Watson says spring and summer are best. Try jigs under a bobber near the dam and in the coves. Rumors of 4-pounders exist.

Finally, bluegill and sunfish round out IVR's warmwater species. Kids will have fun in the coves near the launch ramp and dam, using worms or crickets under bobbers.

Though it was formed more than 25 years ago, IVR still isn't as popular with fishermen as other Northern California lakes. Perhaps the long 10-mile dirt/gravel road leading to it deters so many. That road has received a lot of bad publicity over the years, but it's really not that bad if you just slow down and take your time. The road is graded yearly, and is easily traversed by two-wheel drive vehicles. Just expect some dust on your boat by the time you get to the launch site during the dry months. Unlike other foothill impoundments, weekend boat traffic is usually minimal.

The fee for day use and boat launching runs $5.50. There's a campground with toilets, showers and electricity next to the store and launch ramp that runs $12 per day (with an additional fee for electrical hookups). Waterskiing and personal watercraft are not allowed on IVR; a 10-mph speed limit is in effect throughout the lake.

Indian Valley Reservoir lies 80 miles northwest of Sacramento, off Walker Ridge Road from Highway 20. The 6-mile-long, 1-mile-wide lake covers 3,700 acres and has 39 miles of shoreline. Call Bob Watson at (707) 350-0729 for current fishing information.


Guide Rich Tipton can be reached by phone at (707) 585-8050.

You can purchase the French Ticklure Kokanee and Trout spinner at the IVR store. Phone (530) 409-9720, or you can visit their Web site at

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