When it comes to downrigger rods for kokanee, there are tons of choices out there… so many, in fact, that it can be a little overwhelming. To help you narrow down your options, consider that for most kokanee fishing you’ll want a rod that’s in the 7- to 7 1/2-foot range. It should be rated for 4- to 8-pound test and you’ll want light or ultralight action.
Kokanee have very soft mouths so your rod needs to have a nice, forgiving tip so that you don’t rips the hooks out of the fish.
JD’s Pick: Okuma has been hitting the coldwater scene very hard in recent years and their SST lineup has been gaining a solid following with salmon, trout, steelhead…and kokanee anglers. The 7-foot SST-C 702L and the 7 ½-foot SST-C-7602L casting rods are really sweet sticks with a nice price tag that’s under $60.
If money is no issue, one of the sweetest kokanee rods I’ve ever used is the GLoomis CR841C. It feels great and is much lighter than other brands. However, you’re going to spend quite a bit more for it… they retail for around $250.
Since kokes don’t get all that big, you don’t need a reel with tons of line capacity. What you do want is something that does have a smooth drag. While kokanee don’t make big, line-melting runs all that often, you do want a reel that is equipped with a quality drag system so you don’t break fish off at the boat.
JD’s Pick: The Shimano Calcutta 100B is a classic round basitcaster reel that is more spendy (around $200), but will literally last you a lifetime of kokanee fishing. Smooth, bulletproof and rocking a good drag, these things are worth the money.
If you are looking for something under $100, check out Shimano’s 100-size Cardiff. For around $90, this reel should give you many seasons of trouble free service chasing kokanee.
The old trusty workhorse Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 5500S is a tough, no frills reel that retails for around $60.
The Tica KT150 is another nice mid-range reel that’s perfectly suited for Kokanee trolling.
Some folks like to have a reel with a line counter feature so they can keep exact track of how far behind their downrigger ball their rigs are. The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 5500 LC is a great lightweight linecounter.
Here’s where you can drive yourself nuts – and burn all the numbers off your credit card – at the same time. The kokanee lure market has become so saturated with product that a newcomer to the sport is likely to get quickly overwhelmed. Further complicating things is the notion that kokanee can quickly turn off and on to different colors or styles of lures.
I’m a fan of keeping things simple. While many koke nuts have a million colors, sizes, makes and models of lures on hand on a given day, I’ll stick to the basics. I break them down into lures with their own action: spinners and spoons and ones that don’t have any built-in movement like bugs and squids.
Here are some of my favorites:
JD’s Pick: Hootchie-style lures are a staple in most kokanee anglers’ arsenals these days. The UV pink Rocky Mountain Tackle 1.5-inch squid is a good one with which to start.
The Mack’s Lure Cha-Cha Kokane Spinner is another deadly lure that combines the wiggling tentacles of a squid with a spinner.
Speaking of spinners, the Wedding Ring is one of the most popular kokanee lures of all time. Mack’s still makes them, but the new Double Whammy Kokanee Pro comes in more koke-centric colors.
Wobbling lures like Apexes and Pro Troll 1-inch Kokanee Killers also do a lot of damage on lakes where landlocked sockeye live. I give a slight edge to the Pro Troll version because it comes with the E-Chip technology which seems to call fish in on days when other lures can’t.
Dodgers & Flashers
Rocky Mountain Tackle’s Bahama Mama 4 1/4-inch Dodger ($10-$12) seems to be a hot one on just about any lake in the West.
Dick Nite’s Kokanee/Trout Dodgers in the Watermelon pattern are a must-have on most Western kokanee lakes.
In the spring, when kokanee tend to be more spread out, try dragging a spoon or spinner behind a set of Sep’s Large Colorado Prism Flashers ($12). If you start finding some fish, drop down to the smaller sized Sep’s Mini Micro Colorado Flashers (about $8).
Corn & Scents
Thee’s no question kokanee salmon respond to scents. For eons, anglers have tipped their lures with white corn to give them more “meal appeal.” Now days, you rarely see trollers using straight corn – instead they go with marinated or cured corn.
Pautzke’s Fire Corn is ready-to-use corn cured in their secret sauce.
If you prefer to cure your own corn, try Pro Cure’s Wizard Kokanee Korn Magic Scent.
You can also simply pour some white corn into a small plastic container and marinate it overnight in scents like Pro Cure Trout-Kokanee Magic or Mike’s Kokanee Glo Scent.
It’s one of the biggest not-so-secret anyomore “secrets:” Berkley’s GULP Maggots will sometimes out-fish corn of any flavor.
While there are several companies out there that make good downriggers, I’ve always been a fan of those made by Scotty for their ease of use and reliability.
JD’s Pick: In the electric department, the Scotty Depthmaster Pro Pack with the 60-inch boom is a really nice unit.
For smaller boats where space is limited, check out the Scotty Compact Electric Downrigger.
If you are just getting into the sport you can always go with a hand-crank model like the Depthmaster Masterpack Compact Manual which is easy to use, simple to install and…about half the price of the electric editions.
Modern fishfinders are powerful tools – essential for your success. They sky’s the limit on what you can spend too. Generally, you are going to get better resolution (and target separation) with the more spendy units. You’ll also generally get bigger screens, more power, perhaps dual frequency transducers and a bunch of other bells and whistles.
Get the screen with the most resolution you can find – and also I feel GPS is a pretty handy feature for finding you way around and also marking good fishing spots. Models with lake contour mapping are also sweet because there are times when you will find the kokes suspending over structure.
The graph I currently have is the Lowrance HD9 Gen 2 Touch. I love the thing, but at just over a year old, it’s already been passed by with the likes of the Gen 3 models that feature Chirp technology (gives you better target pictures). The new Lowrance HD 9 Gen 3 Touch is a beast!
Those big fishfinders are going to cost you some money – typically in the $2,500 range. If you can’t quite swallow that, you can get a really nice mid-range unit under $500 like the Lowrance Elite 5 CHIRP Pro that has regular sonar, downscan imaging and GPS. You lose the larger (touch) screen and some features, but it is a really nice compromise.
Of course, the technology has gotten so good in recent years that even a little 4-inch, $170 machine like the Elite 4x will help you locate fish if you are on a tight budget.
Since kokanee have a really annoying habit of getting off right at the boat, a long handled net is a great thing to have aboard. The best nets for this style of fishing have soft rubber knotless mesh. In a regular net, kokes tend to flop and roll around, which usually results in the hooks getting tangled in the mesh… and it can take several minutes to extract your fish and gear. The coated bags will make your life oh, so much easier!
The Frabill Kokanee net fits the bill nicely – it features a telescoping handle that extends from 48 to 96 inches and the bag is made of really nice tangle-free micro mesh. And it’s pretty affordable at about $65.