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The best and not-so-good kokanee lakes of 2017

WON Staff Writer



KOKANEE FISHING IS a big thing in California, and many of California’s lakes hold big populations of kokanee, some self-sustaining, but most that require raising and planting by the DFW, many of them with help from Project Kokanee and Kokanee Power. Read inside for a rundown on the best and the worst of California’s kokanee lakes for 2017.


SACRAMENTO — The 2017 kokanee season provided interesting results coming on the heels of years of drought followed by a record-rainfall winter, and within this story we will take a look at the best and the worst of 2017.

Some lakes experienced typical fluctuation while others had surprisingly excellent results. Kyle Murphy, Department of Fish & Wildlife Senior Environmental Scientist and statewide coordinator for the landlocked salmon program provided his insights on the kokanee fisheries at a number of northern California lakes as the season winds down and fish prepare to spawn.

This summer’s winners were Whiskeytown and Stampede, said Murphy.

“Whiskeytown has been only getting better over the last eight years,” he said. “And this was among the better years for size and numbers. Last year the fishing at Whiskeytown was easier, but this year there was better quality.”

The productive fishing at Stampede wasn’t predicted, given the lack of in-stream spawning.

“Stampede was quite a surprise,” Murphy said. “Guide reports of fast limits and quality of fish, with some close to 16 inches came in all summer. The Kokanee Power Derby was very productive and one boat caught more than 70 fish. Given those are extremely skilled fisherman, but that’s phenomenal fishing.”

Here is how the kokanee season went down at other Northern California lakes.


  • Boca: This reservoir typically isn’t on the radar of a lot of kokanee fishermen, Murphy said. But after producing kokes to 17 inches in 2016 it gained notice. This year didn’t match up to last year, with smaller and fewer fish reported.
  • Lake Tahoe: The bite started late here and was somewhat productive but not spectacular. “Kokanee fishing has been good at Tahoe this summer,” Murphy said. Fish were scattered but now anglers are targeting kokanee as they group at the mouth of tributaries in preparation to spawn. Fish to 18 inches have been reported.”
  • Bullards Bar: Plenty of small kokanee here and it was easy to get 10-fish limits, but the fish mostly were 10 to 11 inches.
  • Donner: It’s a bit like Bullards Bar in that numbers of fish are available to catch but the fish are routinely small.
  • Union Valley: “I heard limited reports of anglers catching quality fish around 15 inches,” Murphy said. “This lake is low on the radar of most kokanee fishermen.”
  • Pardee: Big kokanee here but they were hard to catch. “Pardee was a bit of a disappointment as far as numbers go,” Murphy said. “The quality was there but most would say fishing was tough.”
  • Lake Berryessa: There has been virtually no kokanee fishing success for the last two years, Murphy said. He said water conditions were poor for kokanee in 2015 and 2016 and the lake is in recovery mode. “We have been monitoring water quality here since 2015 and 2017 is much better than the last two years,” Murphy said. “That may mean a rebound for next year, but we are looking for 2019 to be the indicator year.”
  • New Melones: A few big kokanee can be caught here, but this lake has hit hard times. “The summer wasn’t a total disaster, but that fishery has been slowly declining as far as catch rates go,” Murphy said. “That lake reached extreme low water levels, and the impact of water quality and lack of spawning opportunity has taken its toll.” Fish are large, though. Murphy said he heard of a 2-pound, 11-ounce kokanee landed as well as a handful in the two-pound class.
  • Shaver Lake: “This lake has been coming on,” Murphy said. Anglers in September were getting good numbers and good size, Murphy said.


“Overall I’d say the quality was much better this year,” Murphy said. “But quantity is water specific. Some lakes are really good. Others, not so much. But I do have high hopes for the coming year.”


A LATE SEASON male kokanee ready to head up the river to spawn in typical spawning coloration. The fish are bright silver until it gets close to the fall spawn when they begin to turn color and for the kype on their nose.

MULTI-YEAR KOKANEE are shown here, with 4-year-old ready-to-spawn fish, some brightly colored males with kypes, silver 3-year-old kokanee, and some Mackinaw lake trout that were caught feeding on the schools of kokanee.

KOKANEE ARE BRIGHT silver during their lives until just before the spawn, when they go through a major transformation in color and even shape.

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