Understanding the prey leads to an understanding of the predator. In the case of early fall Kokanee, you can decipher a secret bite that is ephemeral yet entirely logical. Landlocked Kokanee salmon filter plankton for food, and they move up and down the water column based on water temperature—preferably 54 degrees Fahrenheit. And plankton move up and down the water column based on sunlight—hey prefer darker water.
Taking that knowledge, the Kokanee will be shallow only in the transitional seasons, spring and fall, and the plankton only at dawn and dusk. One more mental leap to go: salmon tend to school at the inlets during the fall, as this is pre-spawn behavior.
The Right Time
Anglers looking to cast lures for salmon can take the details above and deduce that for one hour a day, for three weeks a year salmon will be shallow enough and concentrated enough to target with a casting presentation.
Colorado’s Lake Granby in Columbine Bay has the natural features to make an ideal spot to target salmon in this scenario. Cold-water guide Bernie Keefe heads out in morning mists on an early morning ride in his Crestliner up the 2-mile long canyon towards the headwaters of the Colorado River. The canyon walls keep the sunlight off the water just long enough to extend the fishing period to about 45 minutes each morning.
The Right Bait
“The Kokanee feed on plankton but will hit bright colored spoons that are jigged above their head,” Keefe says.
Alternative presentations might include a small jig tipped with a Berkley Gulp! Waxworm under a Thill Ice-N-Fly slip bobber. Or, for those looking to shoot line, a forward-weighted size 8 or 10 Alaska-style salmon fly on a 6 or 7-weight floating fly line.
The spoon and the fly should be presented with a snap-jigging retrieve but he quickly points out that this is not a snagging scenario; the fish will hit the lure with their mouth.
The Right Gear
He prefers a 7-foot medium-light, medium-action Fenwick HMX that matches the spoon’s size, while also maximizing the ability to stay pinned to the feisty salmon. Keefe uses a 2500-series Wright & McGill Sabalos reel with 10-pound Berkley Fireline and a 12- to 18-inch 6-pound fluorocarbon leader to maximize casting distances.
During the fall, salmon tend to school at, or near the inlets, which is typical pre-spawn behavior.
Once the sunlight peeks over the mountains and hits the water the plankton descend, as do the Kokanee. At this point a deeper presentation or a trolling pattern may work. Being transplants, the Kokanee rarely spawn naturally and after spawning the fish will expire, so local anglers encourage you to keep a few for dinner. In September, wake up early to check out your last chance for silver salmon this year.