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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.
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.
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 Conconully lakes.
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.
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!