Alaska Adventure Close to Home - by Nick Freeman

Kokanee Salmon Spawning - An Ancient Tradition

Admit it, when you think fishing for spawning salmon, images of south-western Alaska or the pacific northwest come to mind, elbow to elbow with Kodiak bears. You might think that you’ll never be able to swing for salmon because of the remote territory these fish inhabit and the money it costs to get there with all the gear and guides needed for such a trip. Well, what if I told you that you were mistaken and that we have a wonderful salmon fishery right here in Summit County and others around Colorado?  That’s right—every fall, Kokanee Salmon instinctively swim upstream to spawn and restart the circle of life for their unique species.

For those who don’t know, Kokanee Salmon is the landlocked “non-anadromous” version of the Sockeye Salmon, meaning that they cannot acclimate to salt water as most salmon or steelheads. These fish were permanently separated from the sea as little as 15,000 years ago, showing how powerful life’s ability to adapt to new environments can be. These salmon are tenacious, preferring cold deep waters such as we have in Dillon Reservoir. If you’ve never had a chance to catch a salmon or a Kokanee, in particular, this is a wonderful opportunity to go after them as they come closer to shore to spawn.

The pattern that works best is the egg pattern placed in an area where you’ve sighted these salmon. Just be aware that they have been known to stay still even after taking the bait, so try to keep a close eye on what’s going on. Kokanee Salmon have notoriously soft mouths, so try not to yank on the line after they’re hooked, as it could rip out in a hurry. Other than that, it’s similar to fighting other local species. You should be able to tell if you’ve caught a male as they turn a deep red when they spawn in addition to the pronounced hump and a developed “Kype,” or lower jaw.

Don’t forget about the Big Browns!

Although Lake Dillon is known as a good spot for spawning salmon, don’t forget about the big browns there as well. According to state biologists, the brown trout population is doing very well, and they also spawn in the fall. During this year’s health study of fish, brown trout had some good reports. Not only are the numbers of trout increasing in the reservoir, but also the size of these browns is way above average. 

Biologists have a few ideas about why this is, but it seems related to the fact that the stock rainbow population have a larger than normal kill off during the year. The theory is that these trophy browns are bulking up on the smaller rainbows. The amount of food required to get a 25 to a 30-inch fish is exponential, so you can imagine the gluttony of these bad boys. During the time where the biologists were capturing fish for research, there were multiple 15 plus pound browns in one little area. Lake Dillon used to be famous for trophy browns, and those times seem to be coming back—so try for these monsters before pictures start popping up in the news!

There are other really popular places around the state where you can run into large spawning browns. The most famous is probably the “Dream Stream” that flows into 11 Mile Reservoir. Huge fish inhabit that area, but they are extremely selective. Make sure you stop by our shop to get the right equipment for the job. Cold, strong winds are to be expected, so bundle up and work on your cast. It can be brutal, but it’s all worth it with a 26 incher on your line.

Spawning Brown Trout

Enjoying the spawning season responsibly

It bears repeating that if you are wading in the river to go after these spawning trout, be aware of “redds,” or the spawning beds of these fish. The goal of every conservationist is to protect these ecologies for the future and to maintain strong and healthy fish populations. Without conscientious anglers, none of this is possible. Redds are areas that look cleared out and fresh, as the fish clean out an area before laying their eggs. If you see fish on a redd or if they look like they are spawning, please pass them by as they are trying to reproduce. I know it’s tempting but they are not at all interested in food and to snag them isn’t really fair, is it?

Autumn and early winter are good times to wet a line. Cooler weather helps keep fish active and feeding to prep for the long, cold winter. You don’t have to worry about heat exhaustion, and the lower water tables concentrate the fish into the deeper pockets. There isn’t any ice yet, so you don’t have to resort to tailwater or ice fishing just yet either. Finally, there are fewer anglers on the river – this isn’t the high summer anymore and for some, fishing is a warm-weather activity. But they don’t realize that there are great opportunities right now in rivers and lakes in Summit County and beyond.

All in all, this is a great time to be on our local rivers and to even enjoy the natural life-cycles of some of the most unique fish in the country. To watch big browns and kokanee spawn is worth the trip—especially the salmon. These fish are a true symbol of Colorado wildlife, as they’ve been here much longer than most fish species found in Colorado. They have uniquely adapted to their environment in a way that not many species have. To get one on your line is a feat not many anglers can boast of, so give it a go! 

Come on by our store in Silverthorne to get any gear you may need and get advice from our local experts. You can also contact Cutthroat Anglers ahead of time to start planning your next outing by calling 970.262.2878. We are always here to provide the best service and support our fellow fishermen and women.

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