Wallowa Lake is now renowned, after producing the world’s largest kokanee in 2010. Ron Campbell caught his 9 pound, 10-ounce monster in June that year, eclipsing the previous record from Canada and also blasting previous U.S. and state records.
The deep waters of Wallowa Lake, in northeastern Oregon
near Joseph and Enterprise, were home to kokanee even before these land-locked sockeye salmon were planted here and in other large lakes and reservoirs around the state. Wallowa’s kokanee have broken the state record many times, including numerous times in short order from late 2009 leading up to Campbell’s fish.
On the down side, Wallowa Lake’s kokanee fishery is notoriously cyclical. While the fish may be big some seasons, they aren’t always easy to catch in big numbers. Wallowa Lake also has popular fisheries for rainbow and lake trout (mackinaw).
Editor's note: As of June, good numbers of kokanee are being caught in the 2013 season, but they are pan-sized. The current cycle doesn't appear to have many (if any) of the giant kokanee of a few years ago.
Rules to Fish By
Wallowa Lake is open to year-round fishing. Starting in May 2013, it has an uncommon kokanee bag of 20, of which no more than five can be over 12 inches (no minimum length for kokanee). The kokanee limit is in addition to a five- trout bag for rainbows and mackinaw. Bull trout must be released unharmed.
Timing Your Trip – Early Season is Best
Kokanee can be caught year-round at Wallowa Lake, which occasionally freezes over in the coldest winters. The best bite usually occurs from early spring (or just after ice-out) until about June. Some years, such as the big-fish years of 2009 and 2010, anglers continued to catch fish throughout the summer months as they targeted the trophies.
Where to Catch Them – Three Top Spots
You will need a boat to target kokanee, and a fish finder is very helpful. Start your search off the west shoreline at Eagle Point, along the east side from the lone pine tree toward the north shore and between the river and Milepost 4.
Early in the year, look for them first from the surface down to about 60 feet. In the summer months, cold-loving kokanee often drop into deep water (the lake is nearly 300 feet at its deepest).
How to Catch Them – Trolling and Jigging for Kokanee
A slow troll is the most popular method for catching Wallowa Lake kokanee. If you don’t have a downrigger, try using banana weights and/or colored leaded line to determine your depth, particularly after you learn how deep they are holding.
Popular setups include a red or orange trolling lures such as the Hot Spot Lures’ Apex Kokanee Killer or the ever-popular Mack’s Wedding Ring. Troll these lures behind a dodger or set of trolling blades, and run the boat just fast enough to give the attractor some action.
Jigging also works well here. Good jigs are the popular Buzz Bomb and also the Swedish Pimple. Focus on good-sized schools of kokanee found on the fish finder or by the presence of boats.
Whether trolling or jigging, tip the bait with a maggot or piece of corn. (Barstad prefers that anglers use maggots, which she says are easier to digest for smaller fish that get released.)
Regardless of lure choice, many die-hard kokanee anglers also use scent as an attractor that also covers their human smell. Smelly Jelly in the Kokanee Feast or Special Mix formulas is a popular choice.
If All Else Fails
Do what the record-breakers do.
Jerry Logosz caught his 2009 state record (and not too far off the national mark) on a “kokanee red” Apex Kokanee Killer lure trolled behind a Shasta Sling Blade dodger shortly after pulling his lure up a bit from a deep troll.
Wan Teece eclipsed Logosz’s fish (and also a short-lived record by Gene Thiel, caught on a metal jig) when her huge kokanee grabbed a Mack’s Double Whammy lure trolled behind a set of Jack Lloyd blades.
Finally, Ron Campbell hooked his big fish using Shasta Tackle’s Pee Wee hootchie (Tequila Sunrise pattern) trolled behind Shasta’s Sling Blade (UV Silver Tiger)
Gina Barstad and her husband, Bob, from May to mid-September each year operate Wallowa Lake Marina, which rents fishing boats and sells tackle, bait and other supplies.