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Kokanee and Crawdads

okanee, vegetarian land-locked Sockeye salmon. Every spring, while waiting for the high elevation destinations to become accessible, I enjoy catching these hot-tempered silver bullets. Kokanee fishing is highly entertaining, a social event of sorts, a great excuse to contact some outdoor buddies and spend a few days together bending rods, crawdad trapping, cooking, and engaging in hob nob conversation.

There are three challenges to catching a limit of kokanee: locating, catching, and landing. For locating these fish, learning their behavior will limit the search area, knowing they primarily hold above deep water channels, migrating to deeper depths over deeper water as the lake temperature rises.

 UVR Kokes, photo by Phil
Kokanee chrome on a bright sunny day.

The life of a kokanee is cyclic, meaning where you catch them this year at this time, you will find them next year at this time. Once kokanee are located, stay on them -- don’t leave fish to find fish.

sling blade lure, photo by phil flip akers
Lures setback too far from the sling blade will not have the desired action. Lures with more than one quality hook will increase fish-to-net ratio.
Snubber on back of boat to use with light spinning gear, photo by phil flip akers
Use a snubber if lightweight spinning gear is your only option.

Once on a school of kokanee, the catching seems to come easy. The basic technique is to present your offering one and a half times the length of your dodger or sling blade. A 6-inch setback for a 4-inch dodger, a 9-inch setback for a 6-inch dodger, etc. Setback lengths exceeding this basic rule defeats the purpose of dodgers and Shasta Tackle Company Sling Blades. Adjust trolling speed to ensure the dodger or blade is not rolling. A gentle, starboard-to-port rocking motion of the dodger is ideal which is usually between 1.0 to 1.5 mph for small kokanee gear. The length of line off the downrigger ball also varies with depth. The deeper the trolling depth the shorter the required setback is another good rule to follow.

Author with a nice 18” kokanee caught from a canoe. phil flip akers
Author with a nice 18-inch kokanee caught from a canoe. Canoes and kayaks can be elaborately rigged with trolling setups, stabilizers, downriggers, electronics, rod and net holders and whatever else you might need.

For years I caught limits of kokanee from small craft, even a canoe, using merely spinning gear ensembles with snubbers. Having graduated to legit kokanee gear -- line counter reels and rods specifically made for kokanee fishing -- I cannot tell a difference in catch rate but the new gear is certainly nicer. There are many other quirky rituals such as applying garlic scent and/or corn to your presentation. Kind of baffling why any of these unnatural offerings work but they do. I put a kernel of garlic-marinated shoe-peg corn on every exposed hook.

A platter of fresh fried kokanee Patties
Kokanee patties are a bit labor intensive but well worth the effort.

Kokanee are filter feeders with very soft mouths. A hot-tempered fish with an extremely soft mouth makes for some tricky landings. When kokanee rods go off and there are “fish on“ drastically slow the boat’s speed and turn it slightly to the side of the person fighting the fish. This will help in reducing extra line tension caused by steering or trolling speed landings. When fighting kokanee, submerge the rod tip in the water to help limit the amount of aerial acrobatics for which these fish are known. Kokanee become belligerent when hooked and can be challenging to net with even two people onboard. If fishing solo forget the net, instead try and just fling them into the boat.

boiling pot of hot dogs, onion, corn on cob and crayfish, photo by phil flip akers
Crayfish are harvested both for bait and human consumption. Signal crayfish, Shasta crayfish, red swamp crayfish, and virile crayfish are the predominant species recognized in California. The Shasta Crawfish is protected -- see CA DFW regulations.

Of all the freshwater fish, kokanee are arguably the best table fare and can be prepared in a plethora of ways. In addition to common methods such as smoked, grilled, blackened, fried, even canned, another succulent option -- kokanee patties -- tempt those with a compelling desire for sapid outdoor meals.

The next time you and the buddies get together for some kokanee fishing, let the crawdad traps soak while you are out for the day. A crawdad boil -- spice it up folks -- blends perfectly with a kokanee patty bonanza.

fixings for crawdad boil; potatoes, onions, crawdads. corn spread out on newspaper
A crawdad boil is a perfect side dish to kokanee patties.

A generic kokanee patty recipe consists of only a base. Beyond that, seasoning and other ingredients are up to the taste of the consumer. A basic base: Put filleted (and skinned) kokanee through a meat grinder and place in a bowl with one splash of Worcestershire and one egg for every six average-sized kokanee. Mix in chopped red onion, crushed garlic, ground black pepper, lemon juice and zest, and a generous amount of bread crumbs which adds texture and will help form the patty. From here you can get adventurous, with Serrano peppers and cilantro, Cajun seasonings, celery, rosemary…let your imagination run loose and unsupervised. Add the breadcrumbs last, slowly sprinkling in as you mix, until the perfect texture is achieved. Fry in a large skillet with a scarce amount of hot oil.

crawdad boil supper served as people line up to eat. photo by phil flip akers
Please, go grab a plate!

Give your outdoor buddies a call, arrange a kokanee and crawdad extravaganza, you won’t be disappointed! Experience kokanee fests, sponsored events and even derbies -- always an all-out pot luck spread, and terrific entertainment for the kids -- but above all, experience the taste.

Phil “Flip” Akers is a diverse angler and outdoor adventurer. For over 20 years he has backpacked, packed llamas and fly-fished the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, venturing into the farthest reaches of our wilderness areas pursuing quality trout and solitude. He enjoys sharing his experiences including tips, techniques, outdoor cooking recipes, and storytelling. He is certified in wilderness first response and rescue including swiftwater rescue, technical rope and technical animal rescue.

[Editor's Note: For more on the endangered Shasta Crayfish including identifying characteristics, see "A Safe Place for the Endangered Shasta Crayfish."]

 

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