August 13, 2014, Mike Howe
“I think that’s a KOKANEE!”
That was my reaction as I netted the fish for my client Halie a couple of Saturdays ago. This would not be unusual except for the fact that we were fishing for lake trout. It would be odd enough that this 19-inch kokanee had hit and almost swallowed a large treble hook on a 4 1/2-inch lake trout spoon, but it was made even odder by the fact that we were on Flathead Lake.
From the 1940s to the 1980s, kokanee salmon were the prominent sport fish targeted by anglers, tallying as many as 100,000 angler-days spent annually fishing for them. But major food web changes in the big lake caused them to crash and disappear. By most accounts, none have been caught in Flathead Lake since their total crash in the late ’80s. So this one was special to me … as well as to Halie, who grew up in the valley and whose grandfather loved to catch them “back in the day.”
I spoke with Mark Deleray, fisheries manager for Region 1 Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and was told that every so often, a couple of kokanee might flush downriver from Lake McDonald or Swan Lake. When they do, they find no competition for the food they like in the places they like it. So a rogue kokanee in Flathead will be healthy and likely survive to a good size before it spawns and dies, but there is no population to speak of in the lake.
It had been a slow day of fishing for lake trout, and we had made a couple of moves. The fish were there, they just weren’t feeding. Typical high pressure situation, like I wrote about last month.
Changing location and tactics, we moved shallow, hoping to find a lake trout that would fall to a smaller, less aggressive presentation. Instead, this lone salmon hit the largest lure we had out. Much like the huge lake trout we had boated barely a month before, it was not what we were expecting, but we took what the lake offered.
That is the moral of this story: Make the most of the time you have on the water. Be aware of conditions and be ready to adapt as needed. Keep your gear in good shape, and use the best you can afford. Change it up; move around until you get on fish that will bite. You never know what is out there.
I may never catch another kokanee from Flathead Lake or another 45-inch lake trout. But the fact that I could is what keeps me excited about fishing.
Click here for more photos and information on this catch.
Howe runs Howes Fishing/A Able Charters, www.howesfishing.com