Jigging for Kokanee by Scott Walters w/ Terry Walters
If you fish for kokanee and want more production out of your trips, please continue reading. Jigging for kokanee is not only a highly productive method of fishing but also a very fun way to catch such a great tasting fish.
You can't buy kokanee at the supermarket. You can only catch them in our local lakes. Since their flavor and protein quality is so excellent, learning a more productive method to stock your freezer should perk your interest.
In the following pages, we intend to present you with various jigging tactics to use on your next kokanee outing.
Kokanee are known to be a very fickle fish that provides numerous challenges. Just when you think you have learned all there is to know about them, something changes and you end up exiting your boat and making the walk of shame back to your vehicle rather than towards the fish cleaning station.
One moment you can be on the top of the world, reeling in fish after fish, while other times you are wondering if staying home and mowing the lawn wouldn’t have been a better use of your time.
A little guidance in the art of jigging can increase your fishing production which should automatically boost the fun factor as well. Plus, more fish give you more stories, and what fisherman doesn't like more stories?
Here on The Lucky Duck, our main focus is on preparation, execution, and boat positioning as it pertains to kokanee jigging.
The Lucky Duck crew is a group of people who have fun on the water, stalk kokanee, share pertinent fishing information, and promote positive kokanee fisheries. Even though The Lucky Duck itself is a highly visible green and yellow boat with Oregon Duck logos tattooed from stem to stern, it accommodates Beaver Believers too.
You’ll often see bright orange outerwear on some of the crew for a balancing influence. Countless pleas to the skipper to paint the boat orange have fallen flat.
We mainly fish Odell Lake. Why this lake? Odell Lake has plenty of kokanee, a 25 fish per person per day limit, and it's simply a gorgeous destination not too far from home. In addition, we like Shelter Cove Resort & Marina because of ample dock space and resort assisted boat launching services.
The launching service is a great way to start and end busy fishing days by alleviating the necessity to participate in the “Boat-ramp Olympics”, which is a non-sanctioned International Olympic Committee event that occurs every time you wait more than 20 minutes for the people in front of you to fully execute the boat ramping procedure.
If you have ever seen The Lucky Duck (and its truly hard to miss us sometimes), you will notice that most of the time, we produce bountiful results. We do so by jigging. Our tactics tend to be on the aggressive side, however, you can modify any of these techniques to suit a more leisurely or family-oriented angling experience.
Either way, our intent is for you to make a lasting positive memory for you and your crew.
The most frequent questions asked as we walk to the fish cleaning station are:
1. Where were you?
2. What color were you using?
3. Which scent were you using?
In all honesty, we were probably fishing the same areas as 40 other boats, using the same color as 80 other boats, and not using any scent at all. We have not found a single magic bullet.
What we have found is that preparation, hard work, making good use of all the time spent out on the water, and thinking outside the box when the bite is slow is better than a magic bullet.
Before we hit the water for a potential day of carnage, we gather various information, call buddies for recent reports, check the weather, read blogs, review prior year’s journals, and always check in with Shelter Cove Resort and Marina for onsite reports and the latest in gear and lodging availability. Another good source of information is Kokanee Power of Oregon, a non-profit organization that promotes kokanee fisheries and sponsors several annual family-friendly fishing events.
We think we can help you turn your single-digit fish weekend into a double-digit fish weekend or even a double-digit fish weekend into a triple-digit fish weekend. We also think this can be done while still being safe and having a lot of fun.
Hopefully, we can all learn from each other and “pay it forward” to the next generation of kokanee jiggers. Cliff Hayden, the original kokanee jigger on Odell Lake, spent time with us when we were struggling so perhaps these guidelines can help you.
Just think of the enjoyment you could experience watching your crew yell “FISH ON”, “GOT HIM”, “SHE’S ON” (for the ladies), “DOUBLE”, or even “TRIPLE”. It happens to us, why can’t it happen to you?
Please be sure to practice all safe boating regulations and abide by local laws while fishing in all waters. This will allow you to have positive fishing experiences and encourage you to come back for more fun and fish in the future.
General Jigging Techniques:
- Keep your rod tip in touch with the jig at all times. This means no slack in your line, ever. If your line is slack, you will miss “Fish On” opportunities. Kokanee generally strike jigs on the fall. This concept is so important, that we will cover the same tip again later.
- We use a 4- to 6-pound braided mainline with an 18- to 36-inch monofilament or fluorocarbon bumper tied with a uni knot. Tie the jig directly on the bumper. We don't use a swivel because it tends to foul the jig.
- Use a light or ultralight fast-action rod. The light bite is easier to identify with lighter rods.
- Watch your rod tip. You may not feel it, but you will be able to see tip action with a light rod.
- Use jigs between 3/8 and 1 ounce.
- We have found no perfect technique for the actual jigging motion. A variety of factors may dictate whether sharp jerks will work better than slower lifts. Find what works best for you. Always allow the jig to free fall naturally.
- We don’t have a preference on brand of jigs yet. Nordics, Gibbs, Kokanator, Braid, Buzz Bombs, Pro-Troll, Zingers, and homemade jigs all work. The important thing is weight and rate of fall. You will need to consider depth of fish, wind, and your jigging skills.
- The hook needs to be a treble hook.
- Corn is optional. Sometimes it helps, but sometimes it slows you down too much. If you use it, use white Shoe Peg corn.
- Set the hook VERY aggressively. We tell each other you can’t set the hook hard enough. But you might say, “kokanee have soft mouths”. So what? You will either pull the hook out of its mouth or you will set the hook good. If you pull the hook out of its mouth your jig is still in the school and you might get hit again. Weak hooksets result in more fish being lost on the way to the boat or worse yet, at the boat in front of your crew and other boats. Losing fish at the boat wastes fishing time and provokes crew mockery.
- We keep a tight drag setting on our reels. Once you have a fish hooked, reel it in fast. We have one exception to this tip that will be discussed later.
- We don’t net kokanee unless we feel the fish is too large to safely land. Bring the fish directly into the boat. Netting takes precious fishing time, takes other jiggers out of the game, takes more time getting the hook out of the net, and in general if you have a good hook set, it won’t matter.
- Practice bringing the fish from the water to the deck or even to a cooler if you choose to take on that challenge. When the fish gets 4 to 7 feet from the boat, in one motion drop your rod tip, stop reeling, lift the fish out of the water, and guide it to the deck or the cooler. If you keep the fish coming in fast and don’t dawdle, you won’t lose many. You may be mocked by your crew if you lose a fish at the boat or if you don’t hit the cooler after the 10th try but that is a personal issue you will have to handle all on your own.
- Remove the hook from the fish and get your jig back in the water quickly.
- Communicate with your crew. Be vocal. Know your jig depth. Call out your depth when you get hit. Know your port from starboard. Know where 10 o’clock is compared to 2 o’clock. This way when you get a hit, you can say “Fish on at 1 o’clock, 50 feet from the boat at 20 feet down. This information is crucial to your crew, especially if they have been struggling.
- If you haven’t noticed, the preceding techniques are all about efficiency and quickness. Think like a shark and have an aggressive attitude. When fish are playing, it’s time to step up your game and play with them because you don’t know how long that particular bite will last.
- If you plan to jig for kokanee, plan your trip to Odell from April to July when the water temperatures are more agreeable.
Casting For Jumpers—101:
If you have never cast to kokanee jumpers then you will be in for a treat.
Often on calm mornings and/or evenings right before dark, kokanee will jump (or boil).
Sometimes you can see only a few, while at other times you can see hundreds at once. Jumpers that are willing to play is “GAME ON” and by far the most enjoyable time spent on the boat. Basically, all you need to do is cast a jig towards the school and let it fall with a tight line. You can also horizontally jig your way through the school on top. Even with those simple instructions, you will catch fish but by using the tactics below, your production will increase.
- Position the boat for the most optimal number of jigs to reach the jumpers as soon as possible. On The Lucky Duck, this means turning and stopping the boat with the school straight off the port or starboard side. This approach allows casting from both the bow and stern. (Figure 2)
- Stop the boat. Jigs are not meant to be dragged. Jigs are designed to slowly free fall. If the boat is not stopped, notify the skipper immediately.
- Pay attention. Know where your jig is and the line/jigs of the other crew members and even other boats. Getting crossed is usually not a big deal if you are willing to “dance” your way around the crossed lines with your crew. If you do get tangled, that takes at least 2 jigs out of the water for an extended time reducing overall productivity.
- Draw an imaginary perpendicular line off the side/middle of the boat. If you are on the bow, stay in front of the line. If you are on the stern, stay in back of that line. The Lucky Duck is not physically conducive to “front to back” dancing so we really need to abide by this rule.
- Get the slack out of your line as soon as possible. The fish are literally on top of the water and the second that jig hits the water, you should be ready to yell “Fish On”.
- Pay attention to which direction the school is moving. Judge their direction and speed and cast in front of them, if possible.
- After your jig falls through the water 20 - 30 feet:
- Reel it in fast because the fish are on top
- Make note of where other lines are in the water
- Scan for jumpers
- Listen to your crew
- Determine a casting direction and distance
- Re-cast quickly
- Don’t panic if they stop jumping. The fish are still in the area. Keep casting in the direction they were moving. They might come back up and if they were playing before, they might still be willing to play. Remember to communicate with your crew if you get hooked up so they can focus on that general area.
- Time matters. Darkness, hunger, bad weather, the bite shutting off, biological urges, and other time wasters are just around the corner. Make wise use of your precious time on the water. The more time you can keep your jig in the zone, the more productive you will be.
- Position your boat for a comfortable casting distance. Being too far away from the jumpers leads to longer casts, extra slack, and unnecessary complications with other boats. Having jumpers too close can make it harder to work your jigs and that could cause more unnecessary complications with other boats who are trying to fish the school you are sitting on. Be courteous. Odell Lake has plenty of fish for everyone.
- If a particular school won’t bite, leave them. It is hard to drive away from a school of jumpers, but if 4 to 5 jigs land in good position and fall through with no results, the skipper needs to move on, even if the fish are still jumping. Driving away from jumpers is not usually appreciated by the rest of the crew and the skipper usually takes SHARP ancestral criticism until the next fish is hooked.
Vertical Jigging the Bottom—102:
This tactic has been used for years to put fish in the boat. It is simple to do and beginners can quickly become proficient.
- Use your fish finder to find schools located near the bottom. This is usually 3 to 5 feet up from the bottom.
- Drop anchor to position your boat directly over the school. Remember to drop your anchor 50 - 100 feet upwind of the fish and let your boat drift back to the fish. Tie the anchor to the bow for safety.
- Drop jigs to the bottom and reel up a few feet. Let the jigging begin. Change it up. Try big jerks, small jerks, different sized/shape/color jigs … to find what is working.
- Keep your rod tip in touch with the jig. This tactic keeps coming up. Let the jig free fall, but keep the slack out of the line. This sounds easy, but it takes some practice.
- If you hook a kokanee and can stand to let the fish thrash about for a while, you might just help the rest of your crew. While that fish is thrashing around the bottom, it is kicking up sediment, spitting up stomach contents, and creating a frenzy atmosphere that may trigger other fish to bite. This technique is called hanging a fish. This is tough to do because it is simply unnatural to not reel the fish in quickly. By hanging the fish, you risk losing it too. Some of our best bites have come during frenzies like this. This can potentially be huge when other crew members participate in a synchronized manner. More fish = more fish = more fish = more fish. This can be an exponential increase.
- If you intend to hang a fish, you should use 2 to 3 kernels of corn per hook.
- Keep your boat still. If the wind is blowing, you may need a second anchor, sock, or some other stabilizing method. Being still makes it easier to stay in the zone and feel the bite.
- The fish will likely move, so you might have to wait until they loop back around. Hence another reason to hang a fish, it might keep them from moving.
- Try “leap frogging". Cast to where you think the school is located. Free spool your line until it hits bottom. Then, horizontally jig it across the bottom until it is straight under the boat. Try to keep it from touching the bottom, but keep it as close to the bottom as possible.
Vertical Jigging the Column—201—Not For Beginners:
This tactic can be done in conjunction with fishing the bottom, drifting, or just casually motoring around. This is a little tougher for skipper and crew to get it right, so this tactic is probably not for beginners. T
his method also requires fish finding electronics. It takes practice, but by practicing, you will learn your electronics better and faster. (Figure 6) Hint: Turn fish symbols off the fish finder.
While motoring, watch the fish finder for fish to appear.
Let the crew know what depth to target. For example, fish are from 35 to 60 feet. This can be hard work for the skipper, when you find the school you must stop the boat immediately. Often times, this means reverse. Hard at times. Then fight the wind or current to stay on top of the school. If you lose the school, take your best guess where they are and move over them and stop again.
When the fish disappear from the fish finder but your crew is hooked up or gets hit around the boat, pay attention. This is a good indicator of the school’s location. If you find a school that wants to play, stay on them and be a shark.
- Quickly get your jigs in the zone and jig vertically.
- If you hook up, call out your depth or best guess. The crew should be paying attention to their lines at all time. If there are fish from 35 to 60 feet and you get hit at 35 feet, that is good information. Maybe fish at 35 feet are more active, and if you don’t have to wait the 3 additional seconds to get to the fish at 60 feet, why try? Keep your jigs at 35 feet.
- Pay attention to what direction the school is moving and cast in front of them. This can be done with 2 fish finders (bow and stern) or educated guessing.
- Pay attention in which direction the boat is moving. Remember it is difficult for a skipper to hold a boat stationary in windy conditions.
We have found that the shallow schools (top 30 feet) move faster but bite better. The schools on the bottom move slower (or not at all) but are sometimes lethargic, particularly early in the year with colder water temps.
Pick your poison but if the school won’t play don’t waste a lot of time on them. Wind conditions play a big part in which tactic to use. If you can’t hold your boat stationary, you will have a hard time getting your jig below 50 feet effectively, unless anchored. You will also have a hard time staying on a fast moving shallow school. Being good with your fish finder and GPS is extremely helpful. There are no short cuts to learning your electronics.
Vertical Jigging the Column—201—“For the Skippers Eyes Only”
Casting to jumpers and bottom jigging from an anchor are relatively easy methods to catch kokanee in good conditions. If the conditions are not cooperating, however you will need to pursue other options.
The skipper will need to be in constant contact with the boat’s electronics for this tactic. Even experienced skippers will probably not be able to fish and operate the electronics at the same time.
Let the stalking begin. The unsuspecting kokanee don’t have a clue what is going to happen next.
When you drive over a school of kokanee, stop the boat immediately directly on top of the fish.
A good skipper will:
- Identify fish depth when the first pixel appears on the screen.
- Call out accurate depth. If the fish are closer to the bottom, make sure to tell the crew the water depth so they can hit the bottom and come up the appropriate number of feet.
- Make a mental note of your location on the chart plotter.
- Make sure the boat is stopped, if you don't, you will hear “We’re trolling back here”.
- Watch for jigs going down through the column on your fish finder.
- Identify whose jig you see and stop them in the school.
- Stay on the school. This is difficult with a standard fish finder.
- Always keep a safe distance from other boats.
- Keep track of where your crew’s lines are and do not run them over with the prop.
- Know which way the wind is pushing the boat and fight it.
- When you lose the school, have the crew reel in quickly and return to stalking. Use the information you have learned so far to extrapolate the school’s position. Factors are: wind direction, wind speed, current, crew chatter, chart plotter, bubbles, references to shore, other boats, and prop wash.
- Try to approach the school into the wind as this will give you a few more seconds before the wind takes you off them. This can however, be a disaster if you let the boat turn 180 degrees with jigs deployed. This is one reason that communication is so important on a boat.
- Like any other school of fish, if they don’t play, leave them and find some more that will play.
With so little on the skipper’s mind at this time, it’s probably painfully obvious to point out that during the above steps, it’s appropriate for the skipper to tell fish stories, casually eat a meatball sub, sip some herbal tea, text buddies, radio nearby boats, call for a dinner reservation, or even tidy up the boat. You should have plenty of time, specifically between steps #5 and #10. Yeah right.
After a couple hours of stalking you will want to go back to the dock and do anything, but pilot a boat. Perhaps the crew could take care of a couple of these non-skipper related items in appreciation of the skipper’s head ache.
Sometimes a school will not respond to a vertical jigging presentation. In this case, position the boat 40 to 80 feet away and have the crew cast over the school and allow the jig to fall with a natural arc through the school perhaps even allow the jig to go directly under the boat.
If the fish are not on the bottom, you should start your jigging motion in the school. This is considered horizontal jigging. The arc method is easier, but horizontal jigging might produce better results at times.
If the fish are not jumping, how do you find schools to the side of the boat? You use the same technique as above except after you run over the school, you make a note of where the fish are or have 1 crew member drop a free spooling jig into the school. Use the position of the free spooling line to position the boat 40 to 80 feet away. Don’t forget to kick the boat sideways so your bow and stern can cast back to the fish.
This maneuver is nearly impossible with any significant wind.
The use of a side imaging fish finder makes this a very doable tactic. In 100 feet of water, you will want to set your range to about 150 feet. When you lose the school, head back toward them until they appear again. Position your boat and enjoy. Once at Odell Lake, we were able to follow a school from the buoy at Trapper Creek to a few hundred feet off Burly Bluff. We maneuvered through dozens of other boats finally giving up on them after the school split. This effort produced over 40 fish.
In closing, we want to leave you with the idea that to catch big numbers of kokanee, it takes practice and hard work. That effort will translate into increased fun and freezer stocking opportunities.
To increase your production, you don’t need a specific location, magic jig, or a favorite scent. Our secret spot would be where we find fish out of the wind. Our magic jig depends on the depth of the fish, the weather conditions, and the individuals jigging experience. Generally lighter jigs are harder to feel and require a little more skill to properly use. This being said, lighter jigs will produce better results if you can get the jig to the fish and work the school.
Orange, white and pink seem to be favorite colors however, if the jigs go deeper than about 50 feet color matters very little. We don’t get hung up on brands of jigs either. Jig weight seems to be most important. When times are tough and you are struggling to catch fish, make sure you think outside the box and try different methods.
Hopefully these jigging techniques will put a few more fish into your boat this year.
Don’t forget to share your successes and experience to fellow kokanee junkies (including The Lucky Duck). Have fun too.
Special thanks to those who helped us with this guide.
- written by Scott & Terry Walters