Land-Locked: Though Salmon Harvest Opportunities Limited In Idaho This Year, Kokanee Estimates At Dworshak Reservoir Up 75 Percent

Although harvest opportunities for chinook salmon will be limited this year in Idaho, that doesn’t mean you can’t put some fresh salmon on the table.

Catching kokanee may not compare to fighting a huge chinook, but they can provide a delicious alternative. If you’re an avid kokanee angler, you’re probably looking forward to filling your cooler with some tasty “blueback.” Either way, here’s what to expect if you fish Dworshak this year.

Idaho Fish and Game expects around 700,000 adult kokanee this year if survival is average, which should produce high catch rates compared to the 400,000 fish average, or the 560,000 we estimated last year.

Many factors can affect what the actual number of fish is compared to the estimate. For example, if a bunch of fish are flushed out through the dam (also known as entrainment), or just don’t survive as well as expected, there may have a lot less. Still, even if half as many as expected, which can happen, are available it will still be close to an average year in terms of abundance.

The other side of the coin is fish size. As avid kokanee anglers know, more kokanee also means smaller kokanee. With that many more mouths to feed, expect slower growth this year. Fortunately, these fish got a good jump on growth last year. As of this March, kokanee were averaging almost 9 ½ inches in the fishery. In a year with lower densities, IDFG expects these fish to be 11 to 12 inches by summer. However, with a record number of age-1 fish on their tails, these fish will fill out as the plankton blooms and feed is more plentiful, but they may not put on much length this year.

If you fish early on, before the water warms up, remember that the kokanee can be very shallow. On a recent trip, almost all the fish were caught longlining with no weight, or 70 feet behind a downrigger that was only down 7 feet or less. It’s also unlikely to mark fish on your fish finder when they are up shallow, so try fishing likely places even if you’re not marking fish, and be on the lookout for fish hitting the surface. As the water warms, the fish will go deeper and be easier to mark. However, kokanee can come up shallow to feed at almost any time of year, so it doesn’t hurt to run a shallow setup even when you’re marking fish deeper.

The primary prey for big smallmouth bass is kokanee. The more abundant the kokanee, the bigger the bass will get. This year should be as good as it gets for growing bass. While the fruits of this growth tend to lag a year, bass fishing should start getting better this year, and only continue to improve as we move into next year. The last time there were this many kokanee in the reservoir, the state record was nearly broken. With even more kokanee, maybe a new record will happen in the next couple of years.

The kokanee salmon, also known as the kokanee trout, little redfish, silver trout, kikanning, Kennerly’s salmon, Kennerly’s trout, or Walla, is the non-anadromous form of the sockeye salmon (meaning that they do not migrate to the sea, instead living out their entire lives in freshwater). There is some debate as to whether the kokanee and its sea-going relative are separate species; geographic isolation, failure to interbreed, and genetic distinction point toward a recent divergence in the history of the two groups. The divergence most likely occurred around 15,000 years ago when a large ice melt created a series of freshwater lakes and rivers across the northern part of North America. While some members of the salmon family (salmonids) went out to sea (anadromous), others stayed behind in fresh water (non-anadromous).

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