Late in summer, kokanee salmon start to get edgy. With spawning season not too far off, the fish get all bunched up into tightly-packed schools, and in those close quarters, the salmon become aggressive. And, that, my friends makes them particularly susceptible to one of my favorite kokanee techniques: jigging.
While trolling is, bar-none, the most popular way to catch kokanee, there are times when jigging is the way to go – especially in late summer.
To jig kokes, I like to rig up with a light jigging stick and conventional reel spooled up with 8-pound braided line. With a Double Uni Knot, I’ll attach a 6-foot section of 8-pound fluorocarbon leader to the end of the braid and then a jig to the end.
As far as lures go, I’ll drop ½- to 2-ounce spoons like Crippled Herring, Buzz Bombs, Revenge Spoons, Bomber Slabs and Hopkins Smoothies. Fluorescent colors like flame red, orange, chartreuse and chartreuse/lime green seem to be best but I’ll also carry some silver/orange and silver/chartreuse as well.
The trick to this whole game is to locate the big schools of fish. Good places to begin your quest are the faces of dams, river channels and major points. The fish will be suspended – usually 40 to 100 feet down this time of year — depending on the lake and time of day. Sometimes an armada of boats will gather in areas where the fish are concentrated and you can also find salmon schools that way.
Once you’ve found a big pod of salmon, get on top of them and try to stay there. Electric motors are handy for this and so is a GPS unit. When I spot a big school, I’ll mark their location with a waypoint. The schools are always moving, but if you mark them every time you see them on the fish finder, a pattern will often develop.
Note the depth at which the salmon are holding and drop your jig down to them. Line counter reels are very useful here, but you can also chart your progress by releasing 1-foot “pulls” of line off the reel until you get into the strike zone.
It’s important to try to maintain as much of a vertical angle to your lines as possible. If you’re drifting too quickly, the lines will sweep out behind the boat (and they’ll rise in the water column) and it becomes very difficult to keep track of how deep you’re fishing.
Keep the lures just above the school — due to the locations of their eyes, salmon see things above their position much better than below, so you want your jigs to dance in an area where they have the best chance of being noticed. Plus, if you drop your lure below the fish, there’s a much higher probability that you’ll foul hook them.
With bad technique, you’ll end up snagging more fish than you hook in the mouth. The proper jigging method involves keeping the rod tip pointed towards the water and imparting very subtle lifts of the wrist. You don’t want your tip to move upward more than about 6 or 8 inches. Any greater swing of the rod than that is going to cause you to snag too many fish.
After you lift the lure, let it fall at a controlled rate. Most strikes occur as the spoon is fluttering back down, so it’s extremely important to keep the line tight on the drop so you can feel it when a fish sucks up your jig.