The Main Attraction This Winter? Lake Roosevelt Giant Kokanee
When I was invited to try the kokanee fishing at Lake Roosevelt last winter, I had to think twice. I have caught a lot of kokanee on Lake Chelan, but would it really be worth traveling from Leavenworth to Grand Coulee Dam to catch them? Austin Moser, of Austins Northwest Adventures, assured me it would be worth the drive. He was right. Lake Roosevelt has kokanee unlike any you will catch anywhere else in Washington State. Here fish of 18 inches are considered the small ones. Giant kokanee weighing 3 and 4 pounds are common, and fish to 25 inches very possible. Many think that the new state record for kokanee, currently 6.25 pounds) will be broken on Lake Roosevelt this winter season. That will get anglers that normally park their boats for winter out in force.
Getting on the water to fish Lake Roosevelt is easy. Just two miles up the road from the town of Grand Coulee is Spring Canyon. This federal park has a great launch and is open all winter. The lake level drops considerably in late winter, but you can always get to the water at the Spring Canyon ramp. The other option is to drive up to Keller. The road to the Keller launched is reached by taking the highway to Wilbur, and you take a left just outside the town and head down from the plateau to the ramp near the Keller Ferry dock. There is plenty of parking here and a double launch to accommodate the numbers of kokanee anglers that arrive here in the winter. There is even a marina here, and you can arrange to keep your boat tied up to the dock.
Last winter the fishing was great near Spring Canyon. Anglers can leave the ramp, pass through the buoys, and turn down lake toward the dam. Once you have 100 feet of water under your hull you can start trolling. One of the best areas last winter was right off the steep, rocky shore. If the fish don’t seem to be there you can try the shore above Spring Canyon or make the run up to the Swawilla Basin. Swawilla Basin is one of the most consistent spots on the lake to find kokanee throughout the season.
Some anglers choose to launch at Keller and try the waters nearby. It is a short run down the lake and around the corner to the first bay. There is a landmark on the shore here, at the base of a draw, known as Camel Rock. It is easy to spot and you’ll know why it got its name when you see it. Fishing in this bay can be very good, and if you aren’t finding fish it is a short distance to “the Cliffs” just down lake. Just below the Cliffs is another spot called the Pipe Pile Hole, and if you look on the shore you will see the large stack of white PVC pipe that earned it its name.
Another popular area that anglers look for giant kokanee is up lake, past the Keller Ferry dock on the opposite shore from the Keller launch. Particularly later in the season you will see boats trolling off the mouth or just inside the San Poil Arm of Lake Roosevelt. The shore just above the entrance to the San Poil Arm can also be very productive for big kokanee.
Okay, now you know a few places to go on Lake Roosevelt to look for giant kokanee. But, how do you catch them? First you have to understand that winter fishing on Lake Roosevelt is very different than fishing for kokanee on Lake Chelan. The food source for kokanee on Lake Chelan is deep and it is not unusual to keep your baits below 100 feet to get to the fish. On Lake Roosevelt the source of food for the kokanee is in the top of the water column and you will often be fishing no deeper than 15 feet. That is why you see most of boats using side planers. These devices take your line out away from the boat. When the fish are this shallow they will move away from the boat as it goes over them, so you want your baits out a distance. For the same reason anglers put their baits way, way back behind the boat. It is not unusual to let out 100 to 150 feet of line, and then attach the side planer. The planer is then put out another 40 to 60 feet from the boat.
Austin Moser introduced me to the SideWinder planer boards. These bright orange, plastic planers have white “bill” on the lead end that you can turn, so they run either to the right or left of the boat. Your main line goes through the planer and you can put some bullet weights ahead of a swivel to keep everything on your line. When you put your line out, you first drop your blade or dodger with your favorite kokanee lure over the side and let it slide out while holding onto the planer. Right out of the box the planer has a pliable plastic clip to hold your line when you have reached the distance behind the boat you want your line to be. Then you let the line out away from the boat. Austin had altered these planers and attached his own clip to hold the line. This was such a good idea that you can now even buy the altered planers right at the counter at Hooked on Toys in Wenatchee. I used the altered planers and they work great. No false releases and they come off the release with a simple jerk on the rod, and a big kokanee will cause them to release, too. Then the planer just slides up your line.
You can also use downriggers to get these fish. Put out 100 or more feet of line behind the boat and then attach it to your clip. I remember having the riggers set at 12 to 14 feet deep most of the season last year. Some days we would run rods on both planers and downriggers at the same time and caught on both.
Now, what do you attach behind the side planer or downrigger? There are tons of different types of spinners, hoochies and other kinds of kokanee getters out there. What I had great success with last year was the blades and spinners from Kokabow Fishing Tackle out of Meridian, Idaho. The blades have a great “kick” to put action on the spinner behind it. The blades and spinners come in a variety of colors, but the Watermelon is my favorite and the first choice of many anglers. Beyond that I use the darker colors on dark or cloudy days and brighter colors on bright days. The Gold Tail Feather is terrific on bright days. Hoochie style spinners have been popular for years with kokanee anglers, so Kokabow has added them to their available selection this year. I always encourage people to try a variety of gear no matter what they are fishing for. I have had great success with this gear that is why I recommend it. It is something you should have in your box, but fishing is fishing and you may have a hot lure that works on a particular day.
Always put a kernel or two of white shoe peg corn on the hooks of the spinners or hoochies. You can fish this corn right out of the can, but I recommend adding some scent. I have had good luck with Graybills Guide Formula Kokanee flavor and the Craw Anise. This scent was developed by my brother Rick and I have been using it for 30 years. If you like to stain your corn pink or purple I would suggest that you use Wizard Kokanee Killer Korn Dye. It is easy to mix in the corn and doesn’t washout.
Another good lure to run out behind the planer or rigger is either a Rapala or Flicker Shad. Some days these caught as many fish as the spinners or hoochies. A proven color for Rapalas are the ones that are bright orange with a white belly. The “purplessence” is another color worth a try. You can experiment with the small ones up to the big jointed models. A good color of Flicker Shad to start with is the silver with the black back. From there you can play with different colors. Start with the smaller models of the Flicker Shad lures.
One last important thing when trolling for kokanee. Don’t hold the horses. Troll at no slower and 1.5 mph and 1.7 to 1.8 isn’t too fast. When the giant kokanee hit there is no doubt about it. Often you will see them flying three feet out of the water behind the boat before you see your planer skidding backwards or your rod tip bouncing on the rigger. Also, a net with the longest handle you can find will pay off. You will put more fish in the boat.
I wanted to mention that there is an effort by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife with triploid kokanee. They are releasing an average of 250,000 per year. They are trying to figure out if it is worth the effort, and you can help. Be sure to look at each kokanee you catch and see if it has been adipose fin clipped. If so, please measure it and contact the department and let them know about it. You can e-mail them the information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some people will shake their heads when you say you can’t wait to get out on the water this winter. They can’t believe it could be fun. They just don’t know what they are missing. Nothing warms you up faster than seeing a giant kokanee coming out of the water way back behind the boat. You can be sure that you won’t be alone on Lake Roosevelt. It’s giant kokanee will be the main attraction this winter.