There’s no Kokaholics Anonymous
Kokanuts, kokaholics, koke addicts, kookoo for kokanee – whatever you call them, you can find
them anytime from April to September, on waters like Crescent, Odell, Paulina, East, Lake Billy
Chinook, Simtustus, Wickiup and Wallowa.
See all those boats out on the lake? That is what my friend Steve Kroll calls the kokanee nation.
Kokanee are a blue-backed fish that at first glance looks like a trout, but is really a landlocked
Kokanee expert Mike Mansker says they are the greatest boon to catch-and-release trout fishing,
because once you catch and eat one, you will never want to eat a trout again. He says they are a
guilt-free harvest because, like ocean salmon, you kill them and grill them or they die on their
own after the spawn.
You don’t have to go to Alaska to catch a freezer full. Some lakes, in danger of being
overpopulated, have limits of 25 per day. But kokanee don’t always come easy. Sockeye are
plankton feeders and so are these, their landlocked cousins; moody and apt to spook when
One of my favorite ways to prospect for kokes is with a fly rod. Scott Cook, of Fly and Field
Outfitters, showed me his method for wind-drifting with small nymph patterns on East Lake. It is
a quick way to put fish in the boat without spooking them.
One of the hottest bites I remember was on Paulina Lake with my friend Jeff Sprague and several
other guys when the kokanee seemed to jump in the boat. When the bite subsided, I broke off my
jig and was ready to tie on another when the line lifted off the water and hung in the air. Another
guy said, “Hey, my rod is sparking against the strut.” Moments later, the first lightning bolt
crackled on Paulina Peak and we ran for cover.
There have been other days on the same lake when the fish seemed to have lockjaw.
Mansker says there is no Kokaholics Anonymous. Out there among all the other boats, plumbing
the depths for chromed-out salmon, if you have the bait kokanee want, you won’t be able to hide
it from the eyes of the other addicts.
Such was the case on Wallowa Lake. In July 2009, Jerry Logosz caught one that
weighed 7.085 pounds and set a new state record. That record was shattered in February, 2010,
when Gene Thiel landed a 7.5-pounder. In March, Wan Teece reeled in an 8.23-pounder. Bob
Both’s turn came in April with a kokanee that weighed 8.85 pounds. A Pendleton angler, Ron
Campbell, set the new world record with a kokanee that weighed 9.67 pounds.
Wherever kokanee anglers gather, there is an exchange of information not found in any other
angling discipline. In the Kokanee Nation, everybody watches everyone else. There are no
secrets and there is no Kokaholics Anonymous.
Gary Lewis is the host of Adventure Journal and author of John Nosler – Going
Ballistic, Black Bear Hunting, Hunting Oregon and other titles. You can find more on Gary Lewis at GaryLewisOutdoors.com.