Great Kokanee Fishing Tips for Central Oregon’s Suttle Lake

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Suttle Lake is one of a handful of kokanee lakes in Oregon with a special bonus bag of 25 kokanee (no size limits). Fishing for these tasty land-locked salmon here is notoriously inconsistent – lights out for a year or two, followed by a frustrating year with smaller or fewer fish.

The lake also has a notable brown trout fishery and a handful of rainbow trout, plus mountain whitefish.

Suttle Lake is along Highway 20 about 45 minutes northwest of Bend and within roughly a two-hour drive of Salem, Albany or Eugene.

By the Book – Suttle Lake Angling Regulations
Suttle Lake is open for year-round fishing, but at 3,400 feet in elevation it gets little pressure during the coldest months. The 25-fish limit applies to kokanee only, with no size limits. The large limit is to encourage harvests when there are so many kokanee that they don’t grow as well due to competition for zooplankton and other food sources. The kokanee limit is in addition to a 5-fish limit for trout at least 8 inches long.

Timing Your Trip – Early Season Can be Hot
In some years, Suttle Lake’s kokanee start biting well as early as March, as long as the water temperature tops 45 degrees. The fishing improves as water temps get into the low to mid-50s, with catch rates often peaking around May.

Mansker also has observed that at times the kokanee bite appears to follow lunar cycles, much as coastal salmon often bite best on certain tides. This phenomenon isn’t often applied to lake fishing. Mansker, as an example, has noticed that if the fishing gets hot for a couple hours starting one morning at 7 a.m., the kokanee frequently turn on the next day a little before 8 a.m. And, depending on the moon, he has watched these bites ignite even during the late mornings and afternoons, when most kokanee anglers have given up and are back the marina.

Fish Finder – Follow the Fish With the Seasons
Fish can be widely scattered in Suttle, which at about 240 acres is relatively easily searched with a fish finder. Early in the year, kokanee tend to stick close to the bottom, which is a bit over 70 feet at its deepest point. By June, they can be suspended in the mid-water levels.

Secrets to Success – Three Top Methods for Suttle Lake Kokanee

1. Jigging
When the kokanee first go on the bite in the early spring, they are hungry and aggressive. Jig fishing among schools at the bottom of the lake can be deadly. Mansker has hit his 25-fish limit in less than an hour during the early season, but the ideal jig-fishing window can be brief, often lasting one to three weeks.

Many jig types will work when kokanee are aggressive, but the Luhr Jensen Crippled Herring or Gibbs Minnow are among excellent choices. Casting spoons and even crappie jigs can work well while jigging. Mansker suggests that newcomers select one brand of jig but buy it in several good colors. Favorites include white jigs partly painted with bright pink, chartreuse or orange. Solid painted jigs in those colors also work well.

It’s not always necessary to tip jig hooks with bait (although it can be worth trying), but don’t skip the scent. Pro-Cure and Smelly Jelly scents in a gel formula work well; good scents are crawdad, anise, earthworm, corn, shrimp or krill.

2. Still-fishing
When jig-fishing falls off, it’s because chironomid insects have begun emerging from the mud at the bottom. At this time, kokanee prefer natural baits right on the bottom, so switch to still-fishing. Effective baits include pieces of worm, white shoe-peg corn, crawdad tails, periwinkles, maggots and salmon eggs, and especially combinations of baits. Mansker’s favorite formula is a piece of crawdad meat, followed by a single corn kernel and tipped with a synthetic salmon egg, such as a Power Bait egg, which helps hold it all together. (You may also toughen the shoepeg corn with Pro-Cure’s Korn Magic cure.)

Hook size will vary from small No. 10’s to larger No. 1’s, depending on the amount of bait working best that day. A great hook for small baits such as a single periwinkle or corn kernel is Gamakatsu’s hooks for tying caddis fly patterns in a Size 10.

Kokanee are subtle biters on bait, so set the hook quickly and with authority at the slightest movement. Small-diameter braided lines (6- to 10-pound test) help ensure a quick hook-set; kokanee won’t shy from an 8- or 10-pound test monofilament leader.

3. Trolling
As the water warms near the beginning of summer, Suttle Lake’s kokanee start feeding primarily on zooplankton, often well off the bottom. At this time, it’s most effective to catch them by trolling at around 25 to 40 feet deep.

Trolling with a dodger-style attractor followed by a small lure is effective. Small hootchie-type lures are Mansker’s favorite, and he’ll often use inexpensive crappie tubes in colors such as pink, orange and chartreuse, or combinations of colors, such as blue and white.

Small trolling spoons such as Vance’s Sockeye Slammers, Dick Nites and Luhr Jensen’s Needlefish and Super Dupers work well for trolling. So do little spinners. Mansker likes spinners with beads that resemble the popular Mack’s Wedding Ring but that are built with individual colored beads, which give a slightly better action than fused plastic lure bodies. Lures in this family include Mack’s version with a “smile blade” and Gamakatsu’s Flat Blade Spinner Rig, as well as similar types from Shasta, Rocky Mountain, R&K and other tackle companies.

Use scent on trolling lures, and tip the hook with a piece of corn, maggot or other bait.

If All Else Fails
“The key to consistent kokanee fishing is to always be willing to change colors and tactics,” Mansker said. “To be a serious kokanee fisherman, you’re usually signing up for a pretty big tackle box.”

Mike Mansker, who lives in Sisters, grew up catching kokanee in the 1960s and 1970s in Central Oregon and Idaho. He can often be found fishing for kokanee at Odell Lake and Wickiup Reservoir, in addition to Suttle.

For an overview of this fishery, see Suttle Lake Fishing

Return to Oregon’s Best Kokanee Fishing page

Resources
ODFW trout stocking schedule
ODFW weekly recreation report and regulation updates
ODFW annual fishing regulations
National Weather Service forecasts