Region-wide forecasts suggest 2013 will be “the year of the kokanee” in the Inland Northwest.
Dworshak Reservoir in Idaho and Lake Koocanusa in Montana are providing their best fishing in years for kokanee of very pleasing sizes.
Lake Pend Oreille is open for kokanee fishing for the first time since 1999 and Priest Lake’s fishery appears to be reviving.
Mountain snowpack is near normal or less, indicating that fewer fish than in recent years are likely to be flushed over dams and out of reservoirs such as Lake Roosevelt and Dworshak during spring runoff.
That’s just the beginning of the good news for silver specialists. Here are the details.
Dworshak Reservoir’s kokanee fishery surprised anglers in 2012, as notoriously small kokanee finally showed some size. The fish were growing to the 13-inch range in response to the nutrient enhancement project Idaho Fish and Game and the Corps of Engineers have been conducting since 2007 to make up for the lack of feed in the reservoir’s clear waters.
This year – depending on overwinter survival that has yet to be determined – biologists expect twice as many 2 year-old fish reaching even heftier sizes.
“The fish anglers are catching right now are running about 10-11 inches long,” Andy Dux, IFG biologist, said last week. “They should be 12-15 inches long by this summer and be abundant enough to provide good catch rates.”
The trick at Dworshak is to follow the fish, which progressively move farther up the 54-mile reservoir during summer toward their fall spawning areas, Dux said.
In spring, most anglers launch at Big Eddy near the dam since the fishing is best in the lower reservoir upstream for about 10 miles.
In summer, more anglers will launch at Dent Acres recreation facility 13-miles upstream from the dam to get into the good fishing.
Lake Pend Oreille, suffering a decade of decline, hit an all-time low in 2007. But the lake’s kokanee population has been steadily increasing to a level higher than at the end of 1999, when kokanee fishing was halted.
With predator fish apparently under control, Idaho officials have reopened kokanee fishing for the first time in 12 years. The season opened Jan. 1 with limits lower than at other lakes.
“We haven’t received many reports yet, but the fishery is there and we’re glad to see it building back,” said Jim Fredericks, IFG regional fisheries manager.
Hayden Lake was stocked with 100,000 kokanee two years ago. Anglers are beginning to hook those fish, and they’re already running 12-13 inches and thick at the shoulders. A decent number of the kokanee should hit 14-16 inches this summer, Fredericks said.
Spirit Lake has an unusually high abundance of smaller kokanee this year. Summer anglers will find a lot of 9-10 inchers owing to the lack of ice that prevented winter anglers from tapping the fishery.
Lake Coeur d’Alene kokanee won’t be quite as large as they’ve been in some years, but there should be good numbers of pleasing 10-11 inchers by midsummer as the fish move uplake toward Coeur d’Alene.
Priest Lake kokanee have been making a comeback. In the past decade, only 2,000-5,000 kokanee were counted in surveys of shoreline spawning areas. The number spiked to 27,000 last fall.
“We weren’t able to estimate juvenile populations so we don’t yet know whether more fish will be available to anglers this summer,” Fredericks said. “But I do know the kokanee were running 12-16 inches last summer, and more anglers will be test-driving that fishery this year.”
Lake Roosevelt is not plagued by the deep spring drawdowns of recent years and should retain more of the fin-clipped kokanee stocked by the Spokane Tribe. In addition, more of the naturally produced kokanee should survive owing to the Colville Tribe’s netting to reduce the number of walleye ambushing the young fish on their migration out the San Poil River.
Lake Koocanusa anglers have been catching kokanee ranging 10-14 inches this spring, according to reports from Koocanusa Resort. That’s a dramatic improvement from the smaller fish of recent years.