California anglers like their kokanee in one size -- big! We ranked the state's top 10 hotspots to give you the best shot at a fat 22-incher. (July 2007)
There will be a few surprises in store this year. But for the most part, kokanee fishing should remain at par in most waters.
Photo by Chris Shaffer.
Kokanee fishing has gathered unprecedented popularity in recent years in Northern California and some Central California waters.
There will be a few surprises in store this year, but for the most part, kokanee fishing should remain at par in most waters. On a positive note, better communication and planning between Kokanee Power, Project Kokanee and the California Department of Fish and Game will likely cure some issues that have surfaced in recent years. The goal of improving each kokanee water is heading in the right direction. California has roughly 20 or so waters that harbor kokanee populations. But some of them hold stunted fish, or ones that are just too small for sportfishing adventures. Here are California Game & Fish's top 10 kokanee fisheries for 2007, where everyone from hardcore kokanee fanatics to first-time anglers will find excellent opportunities. These rankings are based on the size of fish, because that's what California's kokanee anglers want most.
1. LAKE MCCLURE
McClure isn't a familiar name for kokanee anglers. But this year it will rise to the top of most scorecards. Three years ago, the state planted kokanee here for the first time in more than a decade. They will grow to mature size for the first time this year. The population is likely to thrive since there's an enormous amount of feed in the reservoir.
This summer, McClure's kokanee will have the ability to reach 20 inches or more, something that is rare in California.
"It's not impossible that we might see 20-inch fish there. We had two-year-old fish that were bigger than 14 inches last year," said guide Danny Layne of Fish 'N Dan's Guide Service.
Anglers can expect the kokanee to run 60 to 70 feet deep in July. McClure Point, the spillway, the face of the dam and into the Cottonwood Creek Arm will be prime locations to target. August will bring the kokanee down to between 75 and 100 feet.
"In 1999, at New Melones at the end of the first three-year cycle there, we caught 3-pound kokanee," said Monte Smith, a guide with Gold Country Sportfishing. "I think the same will happen at McClure."
Layne and Smith agreed that their top rigs were various dodgers fished in conjunction with Pro-Troll Kokanee Killers, Uncle Larry's pink tigers, pink hoochies, Needlefish and rolled shad, all tipped with Pautzke Fire Corn.
A few guides reported kokanee up to 22 inches at Donner Lake last year. Those claims weren't 100 percent verified, but fish to 20 inches were.
Hands down, Donner has the ability to kick out the state's largest kokanee. But it can't compete with the number of quality fish McClure will produce.
"I can go to Stampede Reservoir and catch 20, 30, 40 fish pretty easy, but they are 12 to 14 inches long," said Rick Kennedy of Tight Lines Guide Service. "But you can go to Donner and not get the numbers, but get the size.
"Last year, I had a handful of days when I caught limits of fish for clients. I also had days when I only caught five," he said. "But they were 15 to 19 inches long. I think you'll see 19-plus-inch fish this year. Not every fish you catch will be that big, but the potential is there."
Don't head to Donner banking on catching a limit of the state's largest kokanee, and you won't be disappointed. You'll likely catch a few trophy-size kokanee this summer if you fish before 9 a.m. each day.
During the summer months, sadly, the lake isn't big enough to cater to both water-skiers and anglers at the same time. Fish from first light to 9 and you'll have no problems. Stay on the water any longer, and you'll be miserable!
Kokanee fishing doesn't skip a beat at Donner. Each year, like clockwork, anglers position themselves between China Cove and Loch Leven Lodge and run lines 30 to 60 feet deep.
Last season, Kennedy said his top-producing lures were a copper and pink dodger with a pink P-Line Sunrise Squid and a gold or silver dodger with a pink and black kokanee bug tipped with natural Fire Corn.
Whiskeytown Lake has topped the kokanee charts for the last five years, partly because the DFG manages the lake so well. The kokanee spawn is monitored, and depending the number of fish that spawn, the DFG may or may not plant kokanee to supplement the population.
It's been a highly effective management plan, and the only one of its kind in the Golden State.
Since the population is so well monitored, there hasn't been a competition for food in the last few years. That's translated into larger kokanee. Regardless, there will be quality fish available, likely up to 19 inches. And anglers should be able to catch limits.
"We've had a lot of good kokanee years up here," says kokanee guru and guide Gary Mirales of Shasta Tackle Company. "I think that we'll see some really nice kokes." He said he'll target the coldwater curtain, the dam, alongside Highway 299 and the Whiskey Creek Bridge, with Sling Blades and Kok-A-Nuts.
4. NEW MELONES
The last few years, New Melones has remained one of California's most prized kokanee fisheries. Experts believe this year will be no different. "It's going to be on fire. It's going to be the biggest kokanee we've seen in three to four years here," Layne said. "I think you might see 19-inch fish."
The number of kokanee planted has been reduced from 100,000 fish to 40,000 fish, said Layne, and there's less competition for food out there.
On the other hand, expect 25 to 30 boats on a slow day and on the weekend, up to 80 boats chasing Melones' kokes. Don't fret! Even with the high pressure, there's still enough kokanee to go around for everybody.
"It's one of the premier kokanee lakes in California," Layne said. "But it handles the pressure pretty well."
This summer, Layne believes kokanee will average 17 to 18 inches and could run near 2 pounds. He recommends using las
t year's mainstay, a Vance's chartreuse dodger with a UV Apex dipped in red Pautzke Kokanee Fuel or a Sep's watermelon sidekick with a pink hoochie tipped with pink Fire Corn.
In July, anglers will want to target the 50-foot range, before moving down to between 75 and 100 feet in August. July marks the time when Glory Hole Point, Rose Island, South Island and the spillway are good, whereas in August, you'll want to relocate to South Island, Bear Cove and the Peoria Creek Arm.
5. INDIAN VALLEY
Longtime guide Rich Tipton of Lucky Strike Charters believes that Indian Valley will again rank among the top kokanee fisheries. Anglers must take their boats on a slow drive on a dirt road, but that keeps most from making the trip. Crowds will be light, even when action peaks.
"We are already catching good kokanee right now while we are fishing for trout," said Tipton earlier in the year. "When the water gets warmer, those fish will grow one inch a month here. It's going to be fantastic. We are going to see 18.5 and 19-inch fish this year again."
Tipton predicted Indian Valley will kick out some of the biggest kokanee in the state. He said they don't overpopulate the lake, so there isn't that much competition for food.
At Indian Valley, anglers will notice kokanee in shallower area than most NorCal waters. In July and August, they will run 40 to 60 feet deep. Tipton said Sep's pink butt and chartreuse butt dodger was his best setup when fished with Kokanee Kandy.
"Every year it changes, though," Tipton noted. "The year before, the Apex was my best lure there."
6. DON PEDRO RESERVOIR
Don Pedro Reservoir is one of the state's wild cards. There's been a gradual decrease in size of the kokanee here over the last two years. But guide Monte Smith believes that's all set to change. He said that in 2006, the normal plant of 10,000 kokanee was reduced to 3,900 fish, meaning there will be more food for the kokanee this year.
The relaxed stocking numbers is a good thing. Don Pedro has plenty of natural stocking going on, therefore, planting isn't entirely necessary.
"I think Don Pedro will be better than last year. The kokanee were on the smaller side last year. It's been two years since we caught 2-pound kokanee there, but this year we should see some 16.5 inch fish," Smith said.
Don Pedro is a great early morning fishery. "Every time we go over there, I catch limit early in the morning," said the guide. "You can't keep all the rods in the water, the bites come so fast."
July is the best month to target kokanee. Begin around the Willow Tree Area and spend most of your time between Jenkins Hill and Middle Bay. For the most part, they can be found in 80 to 100 feet of water.
A Sep's watermelon dodger and Uncle Larry's pink tiger or a Sep's gold starlight dodger and a pink Apex proved to be Smith's top lures last season. Fish them on 10-pound Maxima Ultra Green, and you'll be in business.
"July is the best month at Don Pedro," Smith noted. "It's tough to follow the fish in August because there are very few out there. When you only have a few boats fishing, it's really tough to find them. I wish more guys would fish for them here."
Lake Berryessa has been a stronghold for kokanee anglers for several years. Sep Hendrickson, the tackle manufacturer and executive director of the California Inland Fisheries Foundation, believes this year won't disappoint. "Berryessa is a consistent fishery," he noted. "There will be quality kokanee for anglers to enjoy again this year."
Most believe Berryessa will yield some 17- to 18-inch kokanee that will likely come from the mouth of Markley Cove to the dam in 70 feet in July and down to 100 feet in August. The hot setups tend to be a Sep's dodger and either an Apex or a Hoochie.
8. SHAVER LAKE
Central California isn't void of prime kokanee fisheries. In fact, Shaver Lake is back on the upswing and positioned for a great 2007.
Even though boat traffic can be high in the summer, kokanee anglers will be able to find success from July through mid September.
"Shaver is in a big-time comeback mode," said Gary Coe, president of Kokanee Power. He said there's been a reduction in plants here, and Edison Power Company is doing a good job at maintaining the water level.
"Even in September, the lake will be within 5 feet of full," said Coe. "Shaver has put out 18-inch fish for us the last couple of years. You had to have 17-inch fish the last two years to get on the money board in tournaments. It went through a cyclical thing where we had 15-inch fish there for about five years. But we've come out of that."
In July you'll likely be running lines down 70 to 90 feet and then 80 to 100 feet in August. There will be kokanee shallower, but those are likely to be two-year fish, rather than three-year mature fish that many expect will run 18 inches this year.
Coe said that his best setup last year was brass with either silver or green tape Vance's dodger, or a 6-inch watermelon black diamond Sling Blade with an orange or pink Uncle Larry's spinner or a hoochie.
For almost the last decade, Lake Tahoe has struggled to kick out quality kokanee. But last year's action gives us hope this fishery could be on the rebound. Guide Mike Nielsen reported kokanee running 15 to 17 inches, and many believe this year will be at par.
"We saw a lot of immature fish last year, which leads me to believe 2007 will be a good season," Nielsen said. "With 2006 being such a high-water and good-feed year, we should see a big increase in size in 2007. It's always a guess, but I'm hoping to see some more 15- to 17-inch fish."
Regardless, the size increase is much better than the 12- to 13-inch fish Tahoe has been accustomed to seeing since the turn of the century. In July, you'll likely find kokanee 30 to 60 feet deep, while August and September will see those fish down between 60 and 90 feet.
In July and early August, trolling will likely be the mainstay as boats will drag Nielsen's top rig, a fluorescent orange Vance's Sockeye Slammer tipped with white or blue Fire Corn or a Mack's Imperial Lure and a Jensen Dodger in front of Taylor Creek.
By late August and into late September, anglers will be positioned in front of the Taylor Creek to jig No. 2 Buzz-Bombs, 2-ounce Crippled Herring or 3/4-ounce Bomber Slab Spoons doused in green or orange Kokanee Fuel.
10. UNION VALLEY
In 2006, Union Valley Reservoir had high expectations, but proved to be a major disappoi
ntment for kokanee anglers.
Guide Fred Thomason is hoping that won't happen again this year.
"I really think it will be good," he said. "If the lake stays lower, they'll concentrate more in the middle of the lake, but I think they are going to be between 12 and 14 inches on average, with a few 16 inches. But don't expect that many big ones."
In July, focus on the Sunset Boat Ramp on toward the dam. The kokanee should be in 45 to 55 feet of water, before moving into 55 to 60 feet in August when they'll likely creep closer to the Sunset Boat Ramp.
The water at Union Valley stays cold. You won't have to fish as deep to find schools of kokanee.
Thomason recommends dragging a Crystal Basin Tackle Wild Thing or a Vance's cop car dodger with a UV Apex tipped with pink, red or natural Fire Corn and soaked in Liquid Krill.
He says it's best to troll at 1.3 mph and normally uses 10-pound Maxima Perfection.
BEST OF THE REST
Bass Lake has the ability to yield kokanee to 19 inches this year, but heavy boat traffic can make it tough to conquer, even on weekdays. At Bullards Bar, anglers will have no problems catching limits of 14- to 15-inch kokanee -- an improvement from recent years. Nevertheless, a lack of trophy fish will keep the fish void of crowds.
Lake Pardee will again suffer from dinky kokanee: a 10-inch kokanee will be a prize.
Bucks Lake will again have to contend with stunted kokanee, but catching limits of kokes to 12 and 13 inches won't be an issue.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Shaffer is the author of The Definitive Guide to Fishing Northern California and The Definitive Guide to Fishing Central California.
You can purchase his books at www.fishingcalifornia.net/