Kokanee Regulations: fishing.pdf (state.co.us)
Some Coloradans associate autumn with changing leaves and the arrival of snow on our mountain tops in Colorado, but others welcome a migration of kokanee salmon in our river systems. These migrations offer anglers opportunities to catch kokanee on their journey to spawn, however, recent years have been frustrating to anglers who work hard to preserve the health of our rivers. We have seen people who are not informed and those acting out of ignorance, practicing unethical fishing techniques that not only harm future kokanee populations, but also spawning brown trout. Shoulder to shoulder crowds can be observed snagging kokanee and running weighted treble hooks through the sides of brown trout after missing kokanee, and it’s very sad to watch. The emphasis of this blog is to enlighten anglers on the proper ethics and laws when fishing for kokanee, and some techniques to help you enjoy fishing during the spawn.
Colorado has stocked kokanee in many reservoirs around the state and these fish typically start their run in the middle of September and spawn until they naturally die in November. BE SURE to check CPW’s regulations for your river before going out to catch kokanee. Most rivers are fly and artificial lure only for kokanee, which means bait isn’t allowed. There are a few rivers around the state that allow bait and even snagging during certain windows. However, we strongly recommend fishing for kokanee with barbless flies as spinning lures snag and kill kokanee before they can lay all of their eggs, not to mention, often snag brown trout trying to spawn as well. If we fish for kokanee with barbless flies, we can preserve the health of the fish in the river system and offer spawning fish a healthy environment to start the next generation. This also includes avoiding stepping on and wading over redds. Redds are disturbed sections of riverbed that look like clean gravel beds, and are home to thousands of eggs. Stepping on and wading over these sections puts stress on future generations of trout and salmon in the river by killing fertilized eggs.
It is pertinent for anglers to understand that most of Colorado is managed for trophy Gold Medal status, and not put and take. If anglers are looking for put and take kokanee fishing, anglers must find a stretch of river where snagging is legal, like the stretch of the Blue River above Green Mountain Reservoir. This means that if you take kokanee from a stretch of river that is catch and release only, you will be cited for poaching. Again, make sure to check regulations from CPW.
Now, to target these landlocked cousins of sockeye salmon, we like to use a variety of different flies. A bright orange egg is a great pattern to have at all times. Not only can the bright orange egg entice a reaction bite from a kokanee, but it can also serve as a great fly to catch cutbows and browns feeding off the eggs downstream of the kokanee. That being said, bright orange and red colors in general seem to bring the aggression out of salmon, and bright red San Juan worms and Copper Johns are a very effective lead and dropper fly rigs for this exact reason. We have also caught kokanee on leeches, scuds, midge and baetis. An orange bead Mayer’s Jigged Leech can serve well as a lead fly trailed by red Jujubee Midge or an orange scud. There are also times when a small red or pink streamer can entice a reaction strike from the kokes’ but it’s fairly uncommon. Sticking to red and orange colors is usually a solid strategy, along with a decent amount of split shot to get into the deep pools and runs where kokanee tend to hold. It’s important to note that you should never fish for kokanee that are on redds as they are actively laying and fertilizing eggs. Even though they will eventually die off, these fish have a job to do and it’s best we let them do their work.
Thanks for reading this blog on kokanee; the crew at FlyCast wishes you the best luck on fishing for these awesome fish this fall and hope everyone practices good ethics and has full nets of fish.