How to Catch Kokanee Salmon without a Boat


What if you want to fish for Kokanee, but you don’t want to buy a boat just to catch a fish? If this sounds like you, you’re in the same boat as a lot of other people, but unfortunately, it’s not a boat you can fish from.

Kokanee salmon can be caught without a boat by trolling from the shore or by jigging from a dock or hole in the ice. Kokanee salmon are difficult to catch without a boat in the summer due to warm water. Cooler waters allow kokanee to come closer to the surface improving the odds of a boatless catch.

There are plenty of little tricks to catching kokanee without a boat, and all you need is someone who knows what they are doing to help you be successful.

Trolling verses Jigging

Trolling and jigging represent the techniques or styles we’ll be focusing on, but we’ll be focusing on adapting them for use outside of a boat. Let’s go over the difference between trolling and jigging, and how to make them as effective and efficient as we can without the use of a boat!

Trolling

Trolling, when done from a boat often involves a downrigger, which brings your bait or lure and tackle down to the depth you want it at, and keeps it at that depth while you pull it horizontally behind your boat.

Trolling from the shore is essentially the same thing, but you have significantly less control over the depth your bait rests at. In addition to this, since you’re more than likely be standing in a solitary position on the shore, you’ll have to continuously be casting your line out and reeling it back in.

Downsides to this include possibly startling the Kokanee salmon, your bait spending a reduced amount of time in the water, and reduced access to the fish who will be deeper in the water, which is where they will almost always be in the summer, when the shore and surface water are warmer.

A key technique to use when you’re trolling from the shore for a Kokanee salmon involves making sure you’re giving your rod occasional jerks to make your bait or lure seem erratic or injured. Kokanee salmon almost exclusively eat plankton, so your bait won’t be imitating anything that they’ll be looking to eat, so don’t focus so much on that.

Kokanee salmon are curious, territorial, and very aggressive for a prey fish. If your bait is behaving erratically, you’ll have a good chance of making the salmon irritated, which is what you’re trying to do in order to get it to strike at your line.

Jigging

Jigging is another popular way to fish from boats, but thankfully, can also be adapted to a more “boatless” technique.

The process of jigging from a boat often involves a weighted line, with multiple baited hooks on each line, being jerked up and down, giving the impression of erratic, injured prey. Sometimes this is done by individual people, other times it’s done by a machine. In most cases, we would be imitating a source of food, but as I mentioned before, with the Kokanee, we’re trying to make it mad, and the erratic movement is a great way to do that.

Jigging from the shore is quite similar, and easier to duplicate from the shore than trolling is, as long as the water you’re fishing has some depth, which it should if you’re trying to fish for a Kokanee salmon.

This is most effectively done from a dock, or somewhere on the shore if the drop into the water is severe enough to create immediate depth. Drop your weighted line into the water, and make sure you have something on your line that will get the attention of the fish.

Flashers and dodgers are a kokanee fisherman’s best friends, as they create the perfect movement and sound to attract and irritate a Kokanee salmon. Shoepeg corn is another legendary Kokanee bait, generally soaked in something that will attract or anger the Kokanee.

Depth is so critical with jigging because you’re not using any horizontal movement, like trolling uses. Jigging is essentially a purely vertical style of fishing. Once you have your weighted and baited line in the water, making sure you’re giving the line an up and down jerking movement is important, especially since the movement is more than likely what will catch the attention of the fish.

Don’t be too aggressive or severe in your movement, the line between the aggression you’re trying to inspire in the Kokanee, and scaring it away, is a thin one. Just enough to make the flasher and/or the dodger do its work. You can reel the line in and drop it back in the water, but unless you’re moving to a different location, that shouldn’t be necessary.

Seasons

The Kokanee is a very temperature sensitive fish, so the locations you’ll be able to find it will vary throughout the day but more specifically, it will vary drastically from season to season as the lakes or reservoirs it lives in heat up. If you don’t have a boat, you’re going to have much more limited access to Kokanee in some seasons vs. others, and your styles of fishing will have to change, as well as your locations.

Winter (Ice Fishing!)

This section will be telling you HOW to catch the Kokanee salmon when ice fishing, but make sure you stay updated and current on your local ice fishing laws, which have the potential to change things up a little bit.

With Kokanee generally being a deeper water fish, being without a boat kind of screws you over, because unless you can walk on water, you’re going to have a hard time getting to where the Kokanee are.
Unless it’s winter.
And the water is frozen.
And you can walk on it.
Let’s be real, even if you had a boat, you couldn’t use it on a frozen lake anyway.

If you absolutely have no access to a boat, ice fishing going to be your best bet. With the water so cold, the Kokanee have a higher chance of being closer to the surface, and closer to the shore. Not to mention, you’re not going to be restricted to standing on the shore, or the edges of docks.

The fundamentals will stay the same, the main difference is you’ll have easier access to the fish, and the style you’ll be using.
As you can imagine, trolling (dragging deep lines behind a moving boat), won’t work when you’re fishing from a hole a little larger in diameter than your average can of chili.

Jigging is the way to go when you’re ice fishing for Kokanee! You’ll want to use a fish finder if you have one to locate the fish, but if your fish finder got left on your imaginary boat, you have a couple of options left. If you’re with friends or family, set your holes and lines 10 to 15 feet apart and with variations in the length of your line by about 10 feet, so you’re simultaneously testing out different locations and depths at the same time.

You can also ask other, surrounding fishermen which depths they’re getting hits at. This is especially useful and helpful if you have no boat, no fish finder, and no friends to figure out where to fish, and how deep to do it.

Dodgers, flashers, and spoons are important gear to use here, as they’ll make the Kokanee curious enough to come to investigate, and then angry enough to strike at your setup. This is where the jigging motion is important. The movement, color, and sound are what will pull the Kokanee in. Kokanee can see color, and many fishermen have reported high rates of success using pinks, reds, and oranges, the “hot” colors, so use a variety of them!

For example, using a red, or glow in the dark hook is a better idea than using a regular, silver hook. In addition to this, you’ll probably want to tip your hook with something edible. It probably won’t look anything like what a Kokanee salmon would normally eat, but if you can get something brightly colored and strongly scented, it increases your chances of the Kokanee striking at the right place.

You can also have some success in the winter by “still fishing” or “still jigging”. This involves simply adding weight and bait to your line, and leaving it still in the water. This specifically is good for the fish who are too lethargic to devote energy to chasing a moving or jerking lure. If you’re trying this style though, there are two things you need to consider first.

  1. If you don’t know there are fish under you, this can be a huge waste of time. The lack of movement won’t attract any fish, and it most certainly won’t anger a Kokanee enough to strike your line if it finds it. I most certainly wouldn’t recommend doing this if you aren’t already aware of fish underneath the location you’re fishing.
  2. You HAVE to make sure you’re using colored, scented bait. Without the movement, flashing of the reflected light, and the sound that would normally be present with the up and down movement normally associated with jigging, you have two things left to attract a fish and get it to bite your hook, color, and smell. Without those things, you’re just a hook dangling in the water, counting on the minuscule chance that some slack-jawed fish will swim by and accidentally hook itself.

Fall

Kokanee spawn during the fall, so while many of them will be near the lake shores, or in the surrounding creeks and streams, make sure you check the legality of fishing spawning fish in your area before you try it. For example, you can fish some reservoirs for Kokanee, but you aren’t allowed to fish for them in the surrounding creaks.

The Kokanee salmon who AREN’T spawning will be 3 to 4 years old and younger, hardly ever older. Mid to late fall, as the water cools down, you may begin to be able to have better success fishing from the shore or docks, particularly at night or in the early morning when the water will be at it’s coolest.

Fishing at night and early in the morning will reduce the effectiveness of some of your gear, like the flashers, which are meant to reflect the sun as they twist in the water. If it’s a clear night though, and the moon is out, they could still have some effect. Alternatives include glow in the dark gear, which would still provide the fish with something additional to catch their attention and be curious about.

Trolling as best as you can from the shore using spinners, dodgers, and flashers will give you the best chance of attracting the attention of the Kokanee if they’re in the area. The location of the fish can be determined by a fish finder. If you know they’re there, you would probably have better success with jigging.

Spring

Fishing for Kokanee in the spring is similar in some ways to fishing in the fall, so I’ll highlight the differences.
Whereas in the fall, the Kokanee will still be hiding out in the colder areas, in the spring, as things warm up, you can actually start to find Kokanee in the warmer parts of the lake. Warmer will still mean cold, but warm enough for them to find new emerging sources of food, which means you MAY be able to find them closer to the shore.

Fishermen warn that early to mid-spring can be a bit slow, as they are just beginning to emerge from their semi-lethargic state caused by the cold of winter. Pay attention to the current! Kokanee salmon typically feed on freshwater zooplankton that can’t fight the current, so they’ll follow the plankton wherever they’re pushed.

Once you catch your first Kokanee of the season though, check the stomach. If zooplankton is proving harder to find, they’ll turn to eat grubs and other small fares, which will clue you into good fishing spots, and how to bait your line.

Summer Without a Boat?

Summer for the boatless Kokanee fisherman is probably going to be your roughest season. You may be able to find them near the surface or closer to the shore at night or very early morning, but the unfortunate truth is you just won’t have the same amount of summer success from the shore as you would from a boat. Here are some tips that come in varying degrees of usefulness for Kokanee fishing without a boat in the summer.

  1. Find a friend, relative, twitter follower, or neighbor who is willing to take you out on their boat!
  2. Depending on your location, may be able to find a log that will stay afloat while you sit on it, and you can paddle it out into the middle of the lake. Downsides of this choice include getting scratched up like nobody’s business (personal experience).
  3. Who needs a boat when you live a life jacket and know how to doggie paddle?

A few more suggestions:

  1. Don’t have a boat, but you DO have a hot air balloon? A quick google search didn’t reveal any laws against fishing from a hot air balloon.
  2. You could try trolling from the back of a camel unless you’re from Idaho, where that’s illegal, OR you could try trolling from a giraffe until you live in Illinois, where apparently that’s illegal as well.

Of course I am joking, really you shouldn’t try to fish in the summer if you don’t have access to deep water.

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Stripped Bass.

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