Kokanee salmon are fast becoming the most popular gamefish in Utah.
The list of lakes that hold these landlocked sockeye salmon seems to grow every year, as does the average catch size in the waters they currently inhabit.
Spending a day trolling for kokes on Flaming Gorge with its majestic canyon walls and incredible scenery is second to none. Strawberry Reservoir is right up there with panoramic mountain views and almost overly eager kokanee waiting to jump in your net.
In addition to those bucket list locations, this article will unveil more than a half dozen more good to great kokanee fishing lakes in Utah.
Introduced in 1922 in Bear Lake, kokanee flourished as a sports fish and have since been stocked in several waters throughout the state.
Kokanee are hard-fighting for their relatively modest size, and they are simply one of the best-eating fish found in freshwater.
There are nine main lakes to choose from in your hunt for kokanee in Utah, though the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is always planning more expansions in the future.
Kokanee Fishing Techniques
Kokanee feed on zooplankton, meaning they aren’t likely to chase after live bait or worms as a trout would. The techniques to catch kokes are more like harassing them into biting than tempting them with a tasty treat.
First and foremost, you’re nearly always going to need a boat for kokes. Sorry bank anglers, there’s almost no way around it. Kokanee spend their lives in deep, cool water. The only way to get access is on a boat (in most cases).
Once you’ve procured a boat, it’s time to set up some downriggers and get ready to troll. Lead core line works as well and will get the bait to the proper depth, or adding trolling weights above your terminal tackle is an option.
However, all that extra weight has the drawback of being heavy and taking the fight out of the catch.
Use your fishfinder to locate a school and drop your lures to the target depth, generally just above the schooling fish.
Downriggers are great because they get your lure right at the target depth and keep it there. Once the fish is on, you fight it from the rod without the hindrance of the weighted line.
Some areas provide perfect jigging opportunities for kokes. Flaming Gorge comes to mind here. Along the rocky canyon walls and deeper drop-offs where you see fish schooled on the fish finder is a perfect opportunity to try out your jigging skills.
Use an aggressive up/down jigging motion in the target zone. Kokes tend to strike on the drop, so pay close attention to sudden slack or twitching.
While not common, it is possible to catch kokanee from shore. The best place to try this is Flaming Gorge, where the water gets deep right at the shoreline. It gives you the best chance to get your bait deep without relying on a boat.
Lures and Baits
Kokanee are aggressive fish that don’t like to be messed with. They strike because you’ve annoyed them.
That said, they also run from predators. It’s not a great idea to use an imitation of a predatory fish as a kokanee lure. You’ll scare off the entire school.
Kokanee lures are typically paired with a dodger or flasher. A lure with action should be set back on a leader at a minimum of three times the length of the dodger above it.
Lures with little to no natural action, like trolling flies or hootchies, can be rigged about a foot or two below the dodger or flasher, which imparts its action to the lure.
Needlefish, Wedding Rings, squid hoochies in pink or chartreuse, Kastmasters and Tasmanian Devils are the go-to lures around Utah. Tip your hooks with a bit of corn or pink maggot if you’d like.
More Kokanee Fishing Tips
If you’d like to up your game, check out our simple angler’s guide with kokanee fishing techniques, tips and tackle suggestions.
Top Kokanee Lakes in Utah
The list of lakes grows every year as Utah adds more fisheries.
With plenty of cold, deep lakes around, the number is sure to keep rising.
For now, for those of you planning an unforgettable inland salmon fishing trip, these are our favorite half dozen kokanee fishing lakes in Utah, followed by a handful of honorable mentions you also should keep in mind.
Flaming Gorge Reservoir
The Gorge has it all. Big fish, fantastic scenery, beautiful wildlife, and the feeling that you’ve truly escaped from it all.
Located about 3 ½ hours east of Salt Lake City, Flaming Gorge has everything you need for a quick trip or an extended stay.
It also offers the kind of truly epic kokanee fishing that brings anglers from far and wide. Narrow, deep canyon walls and clear, cold water provide the perfect habitat for kokes to flourish, and they do.
Flaming Gorge is known to consistently produce some of the largest kokanee in the country, including a Utah state record well over six pounds.
Trolling will be your best bet, with Lucerne and Buckboard being the best places to start your day. Linwood Bay also is worth spending a little time on, as it tends to produce some big lake trout that hang out under the schools of kokanee.
Troll at speeds between 0.6 mph and 1.4 mph for your best catch rates.
Late April through June will have kokanee holding in shallower waters of 20 to 30 feet before diving up to 90 feet down during the hotter summer months.
Utah doesn’t allow fishing for kokes during the spawn from September through the beginning of November, so get your kokanee trip on the calendar between mid-spring and August.
At over 90 miles in length, Flaming Gorge has so much area to cover it’s best to check at the marina for up-to-date local info on where the bite is hottest.
You’re sure to find kokes, but if they’re being finicky, there are plenty of Mackinaw, browns, bass, rainbows and cutthroats cruising around in there to make the trip well worth the time.
The Gorge also is on our list of Best Trout Fishing Lakes in Utah, among other accolades, so there’s plenty of excellent fishing to be had.
Dutch John and Manilla are the local communities on the Utah end of the reservoir, and there are hotels available at Flaming Gorge Lodge, among others. Manilla is just outside Lucerne, which offers ample camping opportunities.
There are plenty of cabins, campgrounds and hotels to stay at, and food is easy to come by around the Gorge, but don’t forget to take food and water on the boat with you.
There isn’t a “floating store” to stop at out on the water, though there are three marinas with full services.
Be sure to pick up a reciprocal stamp for Utah and Wyoming, so you don’t have to worry about the invisible state line.
The Berry is one of the best in the state. Just 1 ½ hour east of SLC, the lake offers everything you’d want in a fantastic kokanee fishery.
Strawberry is one of the most popular fishing lakes in Utah, meaning it gets heavily stocked with multiple fish species and is well managed to handle the number of anglers it sees. Kokanee are no exception.
Each spring after ice-off, the kokanee become active, eagerly smashing anything and everything offered. The trick is finding the schools on your sonar and getting into the target depth. Once in the proper range, you should start picking up bites.
The issue anglers run into here is that while targeting kokes, you’ll also be catching giant cutthroat. The cutts are cruising around at the same depth, looking for an easy meal. Turns out, kokanee are on the menu.
If catching cutthroat while trying for kokes isn’t a problem, the Berry is for you.
Troll the area outside Mud Creek, typically 60 to 70 feet deep, through the Narrows, and the Soldier Creek side. Soldier Creek may have them holding deeper, closer to the 80 to 90-foot range.
Pop gear and Wedding Rings in pink three feet or so below a dodger should do well in most circumstances. Don’t be alarmed if you just happen to have a prolific day catching football-sized rainbows!
The lake has plenty of amenities, from camping to lodging, and there is a café and store at the main marina.
Strawberry Reservoir is a truly spectacular year-round fishery, including being one of the best ice fishing lakes in Utah.
A three-hour drive south of SLC will have you sitting on the shore of this alpine lake, known for kokanee and a variety of other fishing. The air is crisp at almost 9000’, so be prepared.
The kokanee here were planted to bolster the struggling lake trout population. The lakers were running out of food and didn’t take to the lake’s big population of yellow perch as was hoped. The splake also in the lake didn’t much like the perch, either.
Now that kokanee have taken hold and established a stable population, the splake and lake trout are thriving again. That’s great news for everyone but the kokanee.
If you want to catch kokes here, head straight out from one of the marinas and aim for the opposite shore. The lake drops off fast. Watch your finder and locate schools around the area.
Troll with needlefish, pink or chartreuse hoochies, and dodgers. Once on a school, watch the finder for signs of a larger fish just below it and drop another line to target the lake trout cruising along for a kokanee snack.
Trout including rainbows will also smack your kokanee lures at times.
There is plenty of camping and lodging available, and the main lodges have convenience stores.
Jordanelle is the perfect weekday fishery near Park City.
With its easy access to SLC and Provo, this place gets crowded with water sports enthusiasts after school and on weekends. Plan accordingly.
In addition to kokanee, bass, browns, rainbows, wipers and tiger muskie are all at home in Jordanelle. The lake is deep enough to provide prime habitat for everyone to get along, which seems to be happening.
The kokanee have taken hold here and are getting to good size. Catching a 3-pound koke can happen, though 12 to 15 inches is more the norm.
Troll the main lake in the spring from 15 to 30 feet deep and keep it slow. You may catch a few larger browns along with the kokes.
Summer finds kokanee going deeper and congregating closer to the dam and up the Rock Cliff arm. Use pink squid hoochies and dodgers. Tip your hooks with pink maggots.
There are plenty of campgrounds and facilities in the area.
Electric Lake, so named because it’s primarily owned and built by Utah Power and Light, is a 2 ½ hour drive south of SLC. There are no facilities at the lake, though camping is available nearby.
Besides the kokanee, cutthroat, tiger and lake trout cruise around the main channel and can be caught by trolling down each side, then the center. Repeat this pattern until you’re onto the fish.
Most kokanee here are in the 13- to 16-inch range, with a few over 17 inches and several under 12. There are good-sized fish, though you’ll have to go through some smaller schools to find the bigger fish. They tend to school separately by size.
Use needlefish with scent in 25 to 40 feet of water and set your speed at 0.8 mph to 1.2 mph. Troll in a circle through the main channel, slowly covering the area until you find the sweet spot.
The tigers here can offer up some needed excitement if the kokes aren’t playing along.
To be ready for the tigers, bring a fish trap and catch some red shiners. Put them on ice and use DEAD minnows for bait, and you’re bound to do well with them. (Utah doesn’t allow fishing with live minnows.)
Causey is a smaller reservoir just north of Ogden. It’s a spectacularly beautiful location and doesn’t allow anything above wake speed, so no worrying about the speed boat gang here.
Causey is popular with kayakers and personal watercraft users. Jigging and casting for kokes are the primary approaches here.
The kokanee in Causey Reservoir aren’t going to set any records for size, but when you combine the excellent numbers with the scenery, it’s one of the best places around to spend a day on the water.
Typical kokanee lures are effective here. Needlefish and pink squid hoochies seem to be the most productive.
Rainbows, cutthroat and tiger trout round out Causey Reservoir’s fishing options and can create an epic fishing experience. The tigers get pretty big and are extremely aggressive.
The following handful of lakes may not have the renown as our top picks, but they also can be quite good for kokanee fishing.
Moon Lake is the largest lake in the Uinta Mountain Range. It’s also pretty remote. That said, it takes about three hours from SLC and has some exceptional multi-species fishing opportunities that include kokanee salmon.
In addition to kokanee, rainbows, tigers, splake and even arctic grayling can be caught at Moon Lake. For the fans of legends, there’s allegedly the Moon Lake Monster wandering about.
The kokanee don’t see the same pressure they do at other Utah lakes, and that they can be caught without as much struggle. The DWR hasn’t stocked kokanee for years, so the population is self-sustaining.
Standard trolling techniques should work well. Boats can be launched at the primitive launch near the dam or rented at the lodge.
While here, try your luck catching an arctic grayling. They’ve been planted off and on for several years and have been known to get over 1 pound here. While not record-breaking, that could be a bucket list checkmark.
Starvation isn’t the most appealing name for a recreational destination, nor is having to drive past Strawberry Reservoir to get to another lake that has slightly less reliable kokanee fishing, but it’s coming into its own and is worth having on your list.
About half an hour east of Strawberry, Starvation is located in a very desolate-looking desert. It’s very picturesque and is perhaps more renowned as a trophy walleye fishery.
Besides the kokanee and walleye, other fish you might catch here are smallmouth bass, rainbows, browns, tigers and tiger muskie.
The kokanee here were introduced in 2016. Planting has been occurring regularly, and the fish are taking hold well.
Try trolling from the launch at Rabbit Gulch and heading to the bridge, then back to the state park.
The area Indian Bay and the dam should bring success, as there are several deeper structural areas.
The walleye fishing here can be epic. Fish over 10 pounds are common, and several competitions are held each year.
East Canyon Reservoir
Located a quick 45 minutes from SLC, East Canyon can get pretty busy on the weekends with lots of trout and warm water species of fish to catch in addition to kokanee.
Kokanee start their season in mid-May here and can be caught from shore by lucky bank anglers. They’re typically in 10 to 20 feet of water until late May, when it warms up, and then they go deep.
The overall history of kokanee in East Canyon has been hit and miss. The lake is used for irrigation, and water levels fluctuate widely. There have been years that found large fish kills, which affects the quality of the fishery.
With further management, the kokes are back and will hopefully keep growing their population. At this writing, the current catch is often between 12 to 15 inches, so a five-pounder isn’t likely yet.
The best option here is to troll from the first park at the inlet down the main channel to the state park. Repeat this along the north side and center of the lake, repeating until you’re on the fish.
There are a lot of rainbow trout in here, so expect a few chunky ‘bows to come along and take the bait. Maybe a brown or two, or a tiger trout. There also are smallmouth bass, crappie and white-striped bass hybrids often known as wipers.
If you’re looking for a new experience, bring some mussels and head to the area around the state park. The wipers and bigger smallmouth bass hold around this area.
Wipers love mussels and will put up a fight you won’t soon forget. If it’s a slow koke day, that will definitely make up for it.
East Canyon Reservoir also made our list among the lakes on our favorite fly fishing waters in Utah.