The Complete Kokanee Ice Fishing Guide

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Kokanee is my favorite fish to eat and is one of the main species I ice fish for. The gear and lures you’ll want to use are similar to trout fishing, but the main difference is where they’re located in the water.

Here is everything we’ll be talking about:

I know everywhere is slightly different, and what works best for me might not work best for you. Where to find them, the technique, and the rods/reels are the same anywhere, but the lure and bait might be different.

Where To Ice Fish For Kokanee

If you’ve ever ice-fished for trout, you probably know that they like to follow the shoreline and weed beds. Kokanee is pretty much the opposite, so this is super important to know.

The best place to find kokanee in the winter is near steep drop-off points. The temperature of the deeper water is what kokanee prefers, and this is where you’ll find zooplankton, which is what they feed on.

Trout like the colder water and normally scan the bottom for worms, bugs, or whatever else they can find. Kokanee isn’t as aggressive and that’s why they’d rather eat zooplankton.

Before you head out to the lake, you’ll want to know where the drop-off spots are. If you don’t know the lake well, you can use a tool like Navionics to see the contour of the lake.

What you’ll then want to do is go out a ways to find deeper water. You might find them close to shore, but I haven’t had much luck with that.

Kokanee doesn’t really like the cold water and that’s why they stay a bit deeper. What you’ll have to do is drill a number of holes and try to find the school. It’ll be either hit or miss.

I didn’t use a fish finder for the longest time and it was always a challenge to find them. Once you do though, it gets pretty easy to catch them. I’d recommend you get a fish finder (they can be cheap).

How Deep To Ice Fish For Kokanee

Since kokanee prefer warmer water and feed on zooplankton, you’ll need to fish in deeper water for them. That being said, how deep do you actually need to go?

In the winter, kokanee will be suspended over deep water and will be feeding between 15 and 70 feet deep. Start your lure at 15 feet and work your way down to 70 feet. If you don’t get a bite, move to a different hole.

When you’re ice fishing for trout, the ideal spot to drill your hole is pretty close to shore. All you have to do is drop your bait down to the bottom, and you’ll have a decent chance of catching something.

Kokanee is very different. Kokanee mainly feeds on zooplankton, and you won’t find that close to shore or near the bottom. Where you will find that is over deep water (80-120 feet) between 15-70 feet deep.

I always like to start at 15 feet and stay there for a few minutes. If nothing bites, I’ll drop my lure 5 feet and try there. If I get down to 70 feet and nothing bites, I’ll move to a different hole and do the same thing.

Best Rod And Reel For Kokanee Ice Fishing

Back in the day people used to attach line to a piece of wood, throw on a hook and bait, and that’s how they caught fish. That clearly shows you that the rod and reel isn’t all that important.

That being said, the best rod and reel to use is a 26-28 inch medium-power spinning rod. The shorter length makes it easier to control your lure while the stiffer power will be able to handle almost all types of species.

Again, you could use an ultralight or medium heavy rod and still catch kokanee. I just prefer a medium-powered rod because I can feel the light bites a bit better and I can still use the same rod for bigger fish.

Spinning reels are also the most popular option and are what I always use. The main reason I use a spinning reel is because of the versatility. I can have one reel that I use for ice fishing, casting from shore, trolling, and jigging.

Baitcasting or line counting reels will work great too, and they might actually be better for some big lakers or pike. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather save some money and have only a few setups.

Best Ice Fishing Line For Kokanee

Just like with the rod and reel, the type of line you use doesn’t really matter. I know people who use straight monofilament or fluorocarbon, some use braid with a mono leader, and some like braid with a fluoro leader.

My favorite ice fishing line to use for kokanee is braid with a monofilament leader. Braid is the most sensitive line and will help you feel the light bites. Monofilament is harder for fish to see and will stretch, which acts as a shock absorber.

The main thing to know about lines is that you should use as light of line as possible. Any little thing can cause kokanee not to bite, so you want to make sure they can’t see your line.

That’s why you always want to use a leader if you’re using braid. Braid isn’t see-through and is pretty visible in the water. Fluoro and mono are a lot harder to see and are a bit more abrasion-resistant.

For kokanee ice fishing, my go-to line is 4 lb braid with a 4 lb monofilament leader. I’ve used 10 lb braid with a 10 lb leader before and was able to catch fish. 4 lb is perfect though because it’ll be easier to dance your lure around.

Best Lures And Baits For Kokanee Ice Fishing

When it comes to kokanee lures and baits, I’ve found that simple works best. The same goes for trolling and jigging open water as well, but most people really overthink things.

Here are the best lures & baits for kokanee ice fishing:

  • Tungsten jig head with a maggot or worm
  • Micro spoon with a maggot or worm

I’m pretty sure it’s the same in most places, but we’re allowed to ice fish with two rods. Having more lines in the water gives you a better chance of catching something. That’s why I always have two setups.

The first setup is a dead stick rod. All this means is that I’ll drop it down the hole and let it sit. My favorite lure for this is a small tungsten jig head. You could use a regular hook, but you’ll probably have to put a split shot on to get it to sink.

Tungsten is heavier, and anytime I can use less weight, that’s what I’ll do. What’s important is that you put a bit of scent on your jig. Nothing works better than a real maggot or worm. These work better because they release a bunch of scents and juice when they get bit.

The second setup is my jigging rod. I’ll keep an eye on my dead stick rod, but I’ll have to actively jig this rod to give it some movement. My favorite lure for this is a micro spoon. You’d want to go even smaller than you would in open water.

I also like adding a bit of scent to the spoon. Tipping the hook with a small piece of worm or maggot is perfect. If you don’t have either of those, the fake maggots work pretty well too.

How To Ice Fish For Kokanee

Now that we know the area to target, what gear to bring, and the lures/baits to use, we can start drilling some holes. Kokanee travel in schools, so they’re harder to find if you don’t have a fish finder. You’ll probably need to try a number of different spots.

If you have a fish finder, things get a lot easier. All you have to do is drill a hole, see if any fish pop up, and move to the next hole if there aren’t. If you can see that they’re at 30 feet, simply drop your lure down to about 20-25 feet and jig it around.

Step 1: The first thing you’ll want to do is drop your lure to 15 feet. This is always where I start since this is probably the shallowest they would be.

If I’m fishing with two rods, I like having them at different depths. It doesn’t make much sense to have them at the same level, so I might start one at 15 feet and the other at 20 feet.

Step 2: Once your lines are down the hole, you’ll want to jig your lures up and down. Some lures need more movement than others, but it’s always a good idea to move them a bit.

For the dead stick rod, you can let it sit for a while, but I always like to lift it up and down every few minutes. This just gets some scent moving and might draw in some fish.

For the jigging rod, you’ll have to be a bit more active. What you’ll want to do is slowly lift your rod up, hold it there for a couple of seconds, let it fall back down, let it sit there for a couple of seconds, and repeat.

Step 3: You’ll want to stay at that depth for about 5 minutes. If nothing bites either rod, you’ll need to drop your lure down another 10 feet. Rod 1 will now be at 25 feet and rod 2 will be at 25 feet.

Step 4: Repeat the exact same process of lifting your lure up and down for another 5 minutes.

Step 5: Work your way down to about 70 feet deep (10 feet at a time). This is pretty much the lowest depth they could be. If nothing bites, you’ll need to move to a different hole.

Again, it’s time-consuming and is why I’d recommend a fish finder (they can be pretty cheap). The bad thing about kokanee is that they can be tough to find at times. The good thing about kokanee is that once you find them, you can’t really keep them off the hook.

Jon Webber

I'm by no means an outdoors or fishing expert, but it's something I've been interested in for over 20 years. I created this site to test out different gear and techniques to see what actually works.

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