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Kokanee great at Whiskeytown

Gary Heffley author photo,

By Gary Heffley
08/26/15 -- When you get an invitation to join a top of the line guide like Mike Elster for an early morning outing on Whiskeytown Lake, the only answer is what time do you want me there? Of course, that is followed quickly with a number of heartfelt thank you's.

Mile invited me to join him and Monty Currier of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife this last Saturday, along with two other boats of guide Anthony Cox of AC Guide Service, Gary Coe of Kokanee Power, and their anglers in assisting the CDFW in a sample survey of the strength and health of the Kokanee population in Whiskeytown Lake.

Fishery surveys are often done by electro-shocking rivers, streams and in lakes shallow areas where warm water species tend to focus. But in the case of Kokanee, with the exception of their migratory spawning runs up streams they tend to suspend in deep cold areas of lakes, especially in summer months when surface temperatures are much too warm. The result is that the surveys are best accomplished by using rod and reel.

The author (l) and Monty Currier of the CA DFW with a limit of 14 inch Kokanee. Photo courtesy of Mike Elster and Monty Currier
The author (l) and Monty Currier of the CA DFW with a limit of 14 inch Kokanee. Photo courtesy of Mike Elster and Monty Currier

Being that this was a sanctioned study where all fish caught were cataloged, tissue and brain samples taken for analysis and aging I had to agree to perform my fishing duties as an official volunteer with the CDFW signing an official affidavit dockside.

After meeting everyone at the Brandy Creek ramp we all quickly launched the boats and began fishing. Mike chose to fish the cold water curtain at the east end of the lake a short run from Brandy Creek. Mike specializes in fishing trout, king salmon and Kokanee in Trinity, Shasta and Whiskeytown Lakes and on a couple of occasions has held the state record land-locked king salmon out of Trinity Lake before having his records fall to other Trinity kings.

Mike set the downriggers to 80 feet using a selection of Apex, Wiggle Hoochie and small spinners topped with shoe-peg corn behind Sling Blades. A little dab of Pro-Cure Predator Scent for good measure and we were quickly onto our first bite. The clear/pink UV Apex lure was the hot lure and despite having the first two hookups come unbuttoned a steady progression of clean, bright and healthy Kokanee were brought to the net.

In fact by about 11:00am Monty and I had landed 17 Kokanee with a good number of fish measuring out at the 14 inch range, good quality Kokes on any lake. The daily bag limit is 5 Kokanee each, but as noted as part of the survey study all fish caught were brought to the dock for the waiting biologists.

Anthony’s boat concentrated their efforts in the Whiskey Creek Bridge area and west along the channel of Clear Creek and was equally rewarded with outstanding fishing landing 18 Kokes. Anthony’s bait of choice was his own designed Killer Bee Micro Spinners, which by the way are available on his web-site.

Gary Coe and his fishing partner were still hard at it trolling primarily in the channel in front of the dam near the Glory Hole when I unfortunately had to head off to my normal duties at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Redding. The follow-up report of his results was equally impressive landing 16 with a couple of Kokes pushing 15 inches.

All the fish were bright, clean and healthy. There are some years where anglers have come across Whiskeytown Kokanee afflicted with a Copepod parasite, but there was no evidence of any of the harmless skin lesions caused by the parasite on any caught fish. Kokanee have not been stocked into Whiskeytown for a number of years and as evidenced by the catch rates and health of the fish there is a healthy and viable self-sustaining population.

Quality downriggers, electronics, and boat speed control are key components to successful Kokanee fishing. Equally important is having the proper rod for downrigger fishing. A very flexible rod with plenty of backbone is needed. Many standard fishing rods provide too much recoil when released from the downrigger clip either by the fish or angler. Many will just pull the bait right out of the soft mouth of a Kokanee. Keying on the color selection of lures showing success as always will increase overall catch rate.

It was a pleasure to fish with Monty who as part of his duties as a biologist with the CDFW heads up many of the CDFW Free Kids Fishing Days in the North State during the year including my favorite, those held at the Mt. Shasta Fish Hatchery as well as at Grace Lake and Anderson River Park.

Fishing with a friendly, helpful and knowledgeable guide like Mike Elster is always a pleasure and privilege. His Duckworth boat is well appointed with quality gear using electric Walker Downriggers that allow for accurate depth control, and the ability to reset gear promptly and keep presentations in the strike zone. I have always found it difficult to catch fish when the gear is on the deck. Mike has been experiencing great results of late on Shasta Lake as well as on our outstanding day on Whiskeytown. On Shasta, Mike has been keying on shad balls off Toupee Island, Bass Cove and the point off Digger Bay for limits of trout to 2 and 3 pounds along with a few bass who were also keying on the shad. As with Whiskeytown electronics and downriggers are key to get down to where the bait balls and fish are located. To contact Mike to get in on some of this outstanding Redding area action visit his website.

Anthony Cox,, specializes not only on Kokanee and Trout in the area lakes but also targets salmon, stripers and sturgeon throughout the Sacramento River system. Besides his success at Whiskeytown, Anthony has been enjoying outstanding fishing for quality rainbows and browns on Keswick Reservoir.

Gary Heffley has been a valued contributor to MyOutdoorBuddy for over seven years serving as manager, sales representative and reporter for much of Northern California. He is an avid outdoorsman and loves to fish and write about his adventures. He has long history in the Sporting Goods field and is presently managing the Gift Bar and Camping Department at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Redding.

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