How to Catch Kokanee While Ice Fishing


Many people get bummed when winter comes around because a lot of their favorite fish become inaccessible. Lucky for you, ice fishing for kokanee is pretty simple and successful!

Using a fish finder, locate a school of kokanee and then drill a hole in the ice. A slow and evenly paced jigging motion is most effective when using a dodger or spoon to catch kokanee.

If you are new to ice fishing, there is a lot for you to understand. Read on to learn how it’s done.

Getting Started

Ice fishing is the great equalizer of fishermen. Whether you have a boat or not, you can be a successful ice fisherman. In fact, I would heartily recommend that you keep your boat away from frozen lakes. No longer restricted to standing on the edges of docks, casting your line disparagingly from the shore, or bumming off rides from your fishing buddies and their boats, you can finally be the independent AND successful fisherman you’ve always dreamt of being.

Ice Safety

Ice fishing for kokanee salmon may be a bit more inherently dangerous than ice fishing for many other fish, especially when it comes to landlocked ice fishing. Kokanee salmon spend their time suspended over deep water, where their food is most plentiful. This means you’ll more than likely need to be fishing over the deepest parts of the lake.

Ice begins freezing at the shore, and spreads from there. Keep that in mind as you travel farther away from it. The surface may be frozen, but it hasn’t had as much time being frozen as other portions of the lake or reservoir have, and the ice may be thinner.

Make sure you’re being safe by checking the thickness of the ice frequently, and knowing the different types of ice. For example, cloudy or white ice is generally full of air bubbles and pockets, and though it may be thick, it isn’t strong, and it will break easily.

Knowing the different types of ice and how much weight you can put on the ice is essential. Do not fish on ice thinner than 4 inches thick. Ice that is 4 inches thick is safe for you to ice fish on, 5 inches can likely take a snowmobile, and around 12 inches can likely hold a car. If in doubt, don’t do it. Falling through the ice or losing your car to the bottom of a lake isn’t worth a couple of fish.

What Changes?

While many things will stay the same or similar, there will be some fundamental changes that you’ll need to learn about and make in order to really be a successful fisherman out on the ice.

If you previously had no boat, you will have increased and easier access to kokanee salmon. Kokanee salmon are very temperature sensitive fish, and typically live out over deeper water, where their food source, zooplankton, are usually found. With the surface of the lake or reservoir frozen over, you are going to have a much more painless (and hopefully successful) fishing experience as you now have access to the deeper parts of the lake.

Also changing will be the style or technique you use to catch fish. While most kokanee fisherman fish by trolling (dragging a line deep in the water) behind their boat using a downrigger, you can’t do that when you’re fishing from a hole a little larger in diameter than your average can of chili.

Instead of trolling, the technique you’re going to be using when ice fishing is called jigging.

Jigging

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.

Depth is absolutely 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, make sure you’re giving the line an up and down jerking movement is important. This movement is more than likely what will catch the attention of the fish.

Don’t be too aggressive or severe in your jigging, the line between the aggression you’re trying to inspire in the kokanee, and scaring it away, is a thin one. Imagine you’re using a yo-yo! Make sure you’re using 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.

Fish food!

In most cases, we would be imitating a source of food, but not with the kokanee. Kokanee, as I mentioned before, have a diet comprised mainly of zooplankton. Since nothing you’ll be fishing with will resemble zooplankton, your goal isn’t really to make them hungry, your goal is to make them mad.

Kokanee salmon, like their more oceanic cousins, are very aggressive, territorial, and curious, which is odd, since they’re a prey fish. Using the right setup on your line is key to getting them to come in and investigate. The kokanee generally won’t be striking at your lure because it’s hungry, you’ll be trying to get it to strike because you’ve made it mad.

Shoepeg corn is a legendary Kokanee bait, one that can be dyed bright colors. 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! Shoepeg corn is generally soaked in something that will attract or anger the Kokanee, like garlic, or anise.

Tackle

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.

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. The Shasta Tackle Sling Blade is a personal favorite when it comes to dodgers. They’re fairly inexpensive, but more importantly, the kokanee salmon love them!

Tips

1. Take a buddy

I’m sure your parents have told you since the beginning of forever that, whenever you’re going somewhere, especially somewhere with any risk, you need to “use the buddy system”. This is important when you’re ice fishing. While it doesn’t particularly have an effect on your fishing, there is an inherent risk that exists with ice fishing. Whether it’s slipping on the ice and suffering a break or a sprain, or falling through the ice, there isn’t a situation where it would hurt you to have a friend with you while you fish.

2. Make sure you’ve brought appropriate gear.

Not just limited to your fishing gear, you’ll need to bring

  • Appropriate clothing (layered clothing, waterproof/ water resistant boots, gloves, hat, etc.)
  • Shoe attachments that will give you a better grip on the ice.
  • Lots of water. It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re cold because we don’t associate the cold with water loss.
  • Food, like hot soup. You burn more calories when you’re cold, because your body is trying to keep you warm. Bring something high in calories or fat, and keep it warm, if you can, in a thermos or insulated cooler.
  • An auger, or drill to make your hole in the ice.
  • A scoop, to get the extra ice out of your hole.
  • More optional is a shelter. You don’t NEED one, but it will protect you from the wind, insulate you slightly from the weather, and protect you from the sun on bright days.
3. Locating fish?

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 boat, or in a different bag, you have a couple of options left. If you’re with friends or family, set your holes and lines ten to fifteen feet apart and with variations in the length of your line by five to ten 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, or how deep to do it.

4. Set Up!

Once you’ve figured out where your fish are, get everything situated around the hole you’ve drilled. Get your shelter set up, any mechanics you have for your pole if you aren’t going to be holding it, etc. Be prepared for lots of waiting time, as ice fishing is very much a waiting game.

Alternative Options?

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.

Having Trouble? Some Things To Try!

If you’ve been out on the lake or the reservior and havent had any luck yet, there are some things you can check, change, or try.

  • If you have a fish finder, check it. Have the fish moved, or are they still there are not biting? If you know they’ve moved, and you’re wanting to actually catch some fish, you may need to move too.
  • Do you not have a fish finder, so you don’t know if they’ve moved? Or if there are fish beneath you at all? Have several lines in several holes going at the same time. Doing this will enable you to cover more area and more depth at once, increasing your chances of finding a sweet spot where the kokanee are hanging out.
  • Know there are fish there, but they aren’t biting? There are a couple things you can try, like replacing your bait. If it’s been down there for a while, the scent you’re using may be too diluted, and won’t attract the fish as well. Exchange it for a new, “fresher” bait with a stronger scent.
  • Use a different dodger or flasher. Kokanee are temperamental and may have a proclivity for one of your dodgers over the other. Try something in a different color or a different reflective pattern to shake things up.
  • Adjust your jigging speed. Maybe your jigging movement isn’t fast enough to catch the kokanee’s attention or make it mad. Maybe you’re going too fast, and the kokanee salmon are wary to get closer. Either way, varying your speed, and the distance you “pull your poll” is a good way to try something different that may get the attention of your elusive fish.

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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