Fishing at Conconully Lakes: Catch Trout and Kokanee

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Conconully Lake and Reservoir — neighboring reservoirs with the small town of Conconully between them — is a great place to be fishing, especially on opening day.

When the lakes open up in late April, fishing is usually red hot for trout and picking up for kokanee, the two favorite game fish in both of these north-central Washington reservoirs.

First, let us point out that these reservoirs can come with multiple names.

The smaller and narrower Conconully Lake, located just east of town, is also often known as the Upper Lake or Salmon Lake.

The larger and rounder Conconully Reservoir is located immediately south of town and also is simply called Lower Lake.

Both water bodies are stocked annually with rainbow trout and kokanee. There’s a nice state park, access is good, and so is the fishing.

Bass maintain a population in both Conconully Lake and Conconully Reservoir. However, bass compete with trout and kokanee, and fishery managers encourage anglers to take them (up to the bag limit) to reduce competition for the more popular coldwater game fish here.

Both lakes were created by damming in the early 20th century, part of the Okanogan Project to provide reliable irrigation for residents in the area.

The Salmon Lake Dam impounds Conconully Lake (or Salmon Lake), while Conconully Dam holds in Conconully Reservoir.

Trout Fishing

Rainbow trout are stocked well at both of Conconully’s reservoirs, and they are the most commonly caught fish in both spots.

The lakes tend to get several thousand catchable-size rainbows and a much larger batch of rainbow fry and fingerlings each year, courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The best time to come out to Conconully and fish for rainbow trout is, of course, open day and into the spring. Trout fishing remains good into May or early June.

Once daytime high temperatures begin to rise, fishing for rainbow trout gets tougher.

Trout dislike heat, and those that weren’t caught by the early season anglers will tend to stay in deeper water for much of the day.

Try using a fish finder and fishing closer to the bottom, either by trolling or fishing with bait. Trollers often deploy downriggers to more easily fish deep water.

Rainbow trout are favorites because they are fun and often easy to catch, especially hatchery reared trout.

During prime season in the spring, and again as the weather cools down a bit in September and October, when trout are more likely to be closer to the surface, the classic red-and-white bobber is an ideal way to draw trout’s attention.

But these are not fussy fish, and a variety of approaches can work.

Trollers will use a variety of spinners and spoons, including the ever-popular Wedding Ring lures, often tipping hooks with a bit of bait and bringing in the fish with flashy lake trolls or dodgers.

Fly fishing is also popular for trout. Much of a rainbow trout’s diet in nature is insects that dwell at or near the surface of the water, so be sure to “match the hatch” if you’re fly fishing for greatest success. There are tackle shops in Conconully and the wider region that sell lures and flies that work locally.

At Conconully, most adult rainbow trout will be in the 10- to 12-inch range, although holdovers that have another season of growth under them may grow up to 15 inches.

We have a bunch more trout fishing techniques and tips in our simple guide.

Kokanee Fishing

Kokanee are the popular landlocked form of sockeye salmon that are often similar in size to trout, which are members of the same family tree.

As with rainbow trout, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife keeps Conconully Lake and Conconully Reservoir stocked with kokanee.

Kokanee can be stocked by the tens of thousands, usually as fry or fingerlings, so not that many reach catchable sizes.

While the Lower Lake may sometimes receive higher numbers of young kokanee, some years it is the Upper Lake that produces the most consistent kokanee catches.

Anglers also have reported larger kokanee at the Upper Lake, including fish into the 15- and occasionally 18-inch range during particularly good years.

Overall, kokanee in these parts are more likely to be close to the 12- to 13-inch size found in many lakes across Washington.

Like trout, kokanee aren’t big fans of warm water, and during the hottest parts of the year, anglers will likely need to fish in deeper waters to have any luck with kokanee.

Again, those downriggers or other weight will be a must when fishing for kokanee in hot weather.

Spring offers the best prospects, although sometimes the kokanee need another month or so after opening day to really pick up steam. May and June can be quite good.

Kokanee fishing can be worthwhile into summer, and in fact some kokanee anglers prefer the summer because these small salmon are just a bit bigger and also more concentrated in deep water. Also, the trout crowd will have thinned a bit.

But you’ll likely need at least leadcore line or several ounces of weight, if not downriggers, to consistently catch mid- to late-summer kokes.

Some anglers who come to Conconully specifically for the kokanee can find it tough to keep the rainbows off their lines as both fish will bite similar lures.

In many cases, the kokanee are running a bit deeper than the trout, so determine kokanee anglers will often try to drop their gear as quickly as possible to get beneath the swarms of early season ‘bows.

It’s possible to catch kokanee from the shore, especially early in the year when they are more likely to be near the surface, but it’s not common and boating is really the way to go with kokanee.

A big reason while boat fishing rules for kokanee is that trolling is by far the most popular way to catch kokanee.

With kokanee, which feed primarily on zooplankton, you aren’t really trying to match their typical food sources.

Instead, you use their natural aggressiveness against them. Using a dodger or set of flashers to attract kokanee toward your lure, which they are then likely to strike.

Some anglers who are able to pinpoint kokanee, which gather in large schools, also will employ flashy metal jigs to activate the famous kokanee aggressiveness.

Still-fishing with bait such as kernels of corn, maggots or small pieces of shrimp can also do the trick, but don’t expect this to be as consistent as still-fishing for trout.

Remember, kokanee aren’t trout and they tend to hit harder and fight more frenetically than a similar-sized trout of 12 to 13 inches.

Kokanee can require more equipment and expertise to find and catch than the easier trout, but kokanee anglers find the challenge well worth it.

For one thing, kokanee have the oilier flesh of sockeye salmon and are simply delicious table fare no matter how you prepare them, including smoked.

We have some really good kokanee fishing tips and techniques.

Bass Fishing

Conconully Lakes both have populations of bass, and it’s possible in one or both lakes to find a largemouth or smallmouth bass on your line.

It may sound unkind to describe a game fish as popular bass as a pest species at Conconully.

But the lakes are better known as prime fishing spots for rainbow trout and kokanee, and fishery managers disdain the stress that the resident bass place on the planted trout and kokanee.

Bass have no problem swallowing the smaller trout and kokanee stocked here. In fact, a bigger largemouth can even consume a pan-sized trout. They also will eat insects and other forage in competition with the trout in particular.

The statewide daily bag limit is still in effect at Conconully, but while catch-and-release is generally a common way to fish for bass in other spots, fishery managers actually encourage anglers here to keep the bass they catch in order to boost the trout and kokanee fishing.

Typical of lake environments they share, bass tend to become more active and prevalent as the temperature warms up into the summer, and trout and kokanee tend to become less active and retreat to deeper waters.

Experienced bass anglers will tell you the best time to fish for bass is either early in the morning, before the sun is high, or in the evening, just before or even after the sun goes down and temperatures drop.

While they tolerate heat somewhat more readily than trout or kokanee, bass still don’t enjoy hot days and bright sunlight, so expect to find them in shady, vegetated areas, sometimes in deeper water.

Bass are very structure-oriented, so look for rocks, docks or other holding areas they use to ambush prey.

A variety of crankbaits, soft plastic worms and grubs, and other lures that resemble small fish, crayfish or other common forage species are good options for catching bass.

Learn more bass fishing techniques and tips.

Access at Conconully Lake

Conconully Lake, or Upper Lake, has more private property along its shores than the Lower Lake, which limits public fishing access from the shore, so boat fishing is much more productive here.

The primary access is through an exclave of Conconully State Park. This park property, marked by a small sign off Sinlahekin Road on the lake’s north side, offers some shoreline access and serves as the lake’s primary boat ramp.

Conconully Lake itself measures around 300 acres in size. It has a serpentine shape, with a wildlife refuge to its immediate south.

Access at Conconully Reservoir

Except for the access spot mentioned for Conconully Lake, most of Conconully State Park is located on Conconully Reservoir. The park is at the north end of the reservoir right next to town.

Boating access at Conconully Reservoir includes both a ramp and a dock.

When the reservoir is running low, such as at the height of summer during a year without much snowpack, boating access may be unavailable.

One common access area is south of Broadway Street on the north end of Conconully Reservoir. Another access area is just west of North Main Street, on the lake’s eastern shore. Both areas have restroom facilities on-site.

Conconully Reservoir is larger and winder than Conconully Lake, about 450 acres by surface area.

Note that despite their proximity, Conconully Reservoir and Conconully Lake have no navigable water link between them, just the small Salmon Creek. They are separate bodies of water, and you can’t boat from one to the other.

Where are Conconully Lake and Conconully Reservoir?

The outdoors recreation hub of Conconully is located in Okanogan County, the largest county in Washington by size.

It lies northwest of the somewhat larger communities of Omak and Okanogan, reachable via Conconully Road in under a half hour.

Conconully is roughly a two-hour drive north of Wenatchee, three hours northwest coming from Spokane, and closer to four hours northeast of Seattle. From U.S. Highway 97, take Conconully Road about 19 miles up to the town.

A variety of overnight stays are available at the state park and elsewhere, from camping in tents or RVs, to cabins and other types of lodging in Conconully or down the road in Omak and Okanogan.

Find more fishing spots in Okanogan County

Washington Resources

WDFW Fishing and Stocking Reports
WDFW Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service forecasts