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When it’s time to spawn, Salmon make the trek back to the river that they
were born in. With the changes made to retain water by building dams, the
salmon are not able to make it up the river system to where they need to
spawn. California Department of Fish and Wildlife create ladder systems in
the rivers, just below a dam, so the salmon can swim up into the fish hatchery
for egg and sperm collection, so they can fertilize the eggs, and raise the
salmon so that they can be planted back into the river system so they can
swim back to the ocean and grow to maturity and repeat the cycle. A portion
of the little salmon are planted into lakes throughout California.
There are three main types of these landlocked Salmon that are targeted for
this unique fishery. Kokanee Salmon, King Salmon, and Coho Salmon.
Landlocked Kokanee Salmon
The common name for a land locked Sockeye Salmon is Kokanee (pronounced coke-a-nee). Kokanee
spend their entire life in freshwater, and they do not migrate to the ocean. Kokanee typically inhabit
large lakes, and will return to the streams they were born in, or along the shoreline with gravel
bottoms in order to spawn. The Kokanee die after spawning, and the cycle of life continues with
their offspring, which will complete the same cycle. The cycle typically takes three to seven years to
Although Kokanee are much smaller than most other salmon breeds, they are ferocious fighters.
They are known to be very active when they get hooked. They typically jump and launch themselves
into the air once they feel the hook, spinning, and jumping trying to spit the hook. They have very
soft mouths, so you don’t want to set the hook, you just want to real straight in, keeping the line
tight with no slack. If you find yourself having a lot of LDR’s (long distance release), or losing the fish
before you can land them, you may want to add a rubber snubber to your line, to take some of the
impact of the combination of the line moving through the water and the Kokanee biting the line, to
lessen the odds of losing the fish.
Kokanee are mostly silver with a dark blue or silver back. They have small spots along the back and
the tail. When they spawn, their body turns bright read and their head turns a dark green. Male
Kokanee develop a pronounced hump on the back and a fierce-looking hooked jaw.
Kokanee occur naturally in the wild where sockeye populations were cut off from the sea by dams or
other geographical events. They share the same range as the sockeye salmon. They are found in
many areas, from California up to Alaska, as well as inland Idaho, and as far as Japan, Korea, and
There are naturally occurring populations, as well as being stocked by fish and game management
agencies in large cold water lakes throughout California and the mountain West, as well as far east
to Maine, and south to North Carolina.
Kokanee can vary widely in size, depending on how plentiful the food is, and how large the
population of Kokanee is. Most are in the 8 to 12 inch range, but can grow into the mid 20 inch range
under the best conditions. A two pounder would be a decent catch, with a five pounder to be
thought of as a trophy size.
The largest Kokanee ever caught was a world record set by Ron Campbell at Wallowa Lake in
Oregon. This Lunker was 27 inches long, and it weighted 9.67 pounds.
Kokanee feed mostly on plankton, so they typically hang out in open water near the lake surface
when the water is cool, and in deep water during the summer time. The best way to catch Kokanee
is trolling small shrimp and octopus type fly’s, in pink, red, blue, or white. Small Kokanee sized
spoons with a corn tipped hook (powerbait makes a great corn kernel to use for this purpose). I
typically like to use a special Kokanee scent with pink coloring to soak the corn in, which tends to
attract them more.
Lake Berryessa Kokanee Salmon
Landlocked King Salmon
Landlocked King Salmon, which are Chinook salmon, are not a subspecies of the full-sized saltwater
salmon. They are planted in California lakes from the salmon that swam up the river systems, and
into the fish hatcheries. Once the goals have been met at the hatcheries for the fish to be released
back into the rivers, some of the extra fish from these hatcheries are planted in local lakes to make a
nice salmon fishery in the lakes. Since they have no access to the ocean, the fish become landlocked
and the lake is their home.
It’s possible for landlocked King Salmon to reach double digit weight, but most of them top out at
around six pounds. They typically roam around the lake’s open water areas. They typically live for
three to four years and then die off naturally
For landlocked King Salmon to get as large as they do, they are meat eaters, typically eating
threadfin shad and pond smelt.
Most anglers like to troll for King’s with stickbaits that imitate the local minnows that they are
accustomed to eating. Spoons, needlefish, and Apex also work well. Another method that works well
is to add shad to the lure. I typically soak mine in non-iodized salt to make them stick together
better, and sometimes add some color and scent to the mix as well. Another method is to use a
shad rolling harness and troll for the King’s. Some people like to drift live minnows, and bass
fishermen are known to catch a few kings using rubber worms off of the shorelines in about 25 feet
of water. For trolling, I typically find them in the 40-60 feet deep range.
One of California’s best producers of big landlocked King salmon, and the best shot at a fish over ten
pounds is Lake Shasta. Other great lakes are Folsom Lake, Lake Almanor, Pine Flat Reservoir, Don
Pedro Reservoir, Del Valle Reservoir, and Lake Berryessa. The best time of year to fish for King’s are
in the spring and fall as the lakes turnover.
Folsom Lake Nice Landlocked King Salmon
Landlocked Coho Salmon
Landlocked Coho salmon, also known as Silver, are notorious jumpers and spinners as they get
hooked. The fish can easily be identified by their white mouth and black gum line, along with spots
along the dorsal area. Coho Salmon can attain an average weight of twelve to eighteen pounds.
Lake Oroville was planted with Coho salmon in the 1970’s, but the Department of Water Resources
could not find a reliable source of eggs and the program was discontinue. They then began planting
Kings as the salmon of choice in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but they found that the King’s were
transmitting a virus called IHN, and they went back to planting Coho’s. They found a reliable source
for eggs from a Washington State hatchery and thus Lake Oroville’s contemporary coho era began.
Coho typically live for four to six years.
Coho typically feed on baitfish most of their lives, so angler’s typically use imitation minnow
stickbaits, spoons, needlefish, spinners, flies, and live bait. The best time to catch Coho are in the
spring and fall months.
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