The Ultimate Guide to Jigging for Kokanee

Ask most anglers what’s the best way to catch kokanee, and 9 out of 10 will say trolling.  While I tend to agree most of the time, there are times when it’s all about jigging.

The fast action of jigging is, hands down, the most thrilling way to fill a boat with these silver beauties.  Sometimes the action is so hot I need to put down the rod and take a break.

Like any type of fishing, getting dialed in to kokanee jigging requires a good arsenal of gear and a bit of knowledge.  If you’re ready to test the waters for your share of the catch, read on for all my best tips.

Jigging vs Trolling

Want to start a raging debate among diehard kokanee anglers?  Just ask what catches more fish; jigging or trolling?  For me, I say why not both!  

Hands down, trolling is the most widely adopted method of catching kokanee.  For good reason too.  It works!  However, there are times when jigging just might have an edge over trolling.  If you want to catch more fish throughout the entire season, jigging might be the golden ticket.

What is trolling

Trolling for kokanee involves pulling a dodger/flasher and lure behind a boat.  Getting trolling gear down deep requires a downrigger, diver or weights.  Trolling is ideally suited for finding fish that are more dispersed in a body of water.

If trolling for kokanee is more your thing, head over to my other article where I tell you everything you need to know about trolling for kokanee.  

What is jigging

Most of you probably already know what jigging is, but for those newly initiated anglers among us, let’s review.  

Jigging is a method of vertical fishing using a weighted lure.  You drop the lure to a desired depth and “jig” it up and down to entice the fish.  It’s that simple.  Once you get all the other components like lure choice, scents, baits, rod setup and electronics figured out, you can start catching fish.

So, why would you jig instead of troll?  Well, it depends on the time of year and how the kokanee are behaving.  Jigging really shines when you can locate big schools of fish.  Get on top of a school, and non-stop action can heat up fast with a jig.  

In the same situation of schooling fish, trolling produces a lower catch rate because you need to make slow, moving passes over the fish’s location.  That means you’re spending a lot of time away from the fish as you turn to make another pass through the school.

Here’s an idea.  Instead of choosing sides between jigging and trolling, be ready for both techniques.  When your fish finder is showing large schools of fish, break out the jigging setup and hammer the school hard.  Once the action slows down, get back to trolling and hunt down the dispersed pockets of kokanee that are prime targets for a slow troll.

When is kokanee jigging the best

As I alluded to earlier, arm-aching jigging action occurs when kokanee form big schools.  The timing varies slightly from one lake to another but in general there are two times each year when you can reliably find bigger than average schools of kokanee; early spring and late summer.  

Early Spring

Like most creatures on this planet, kokanee care about two things; food and mating.

Early spring is all about food.  

The big, deep lakes and reservoirs that hold kokanee thaw out each year and go through a cycle of turnover.  In other words, the layers of water mix due to temperature changes and wind.  This re-oxygenates the water and disperses nutrients.

The newly invigorated water is perfect for brewing huge blooms of zooplankton, the primary food source of kokanee.  As big blooms of microscopic zooplankton grow, kokanee congregate in huge numbers to gorge on the feast.

When the lake is choked with anglers intent on trolling, that is your opportunity to zip from school to school and limit out on the aggressively feeding kokes.  Likely spots include wind blown points, underwater drop offs and near dam faces.  

Plankton blooms can happen anywhere and sometimes your only option is to cruise around likely spots with your fish finder until you locate a school.  Mark each spot on the GPS, and overtime, patterns will emerge.  In many cases, you can return to a good spot year after year. 

Late Summer

After the spring feed, food gets dispersed around the lake and kokanee spread out too.  Small schools do occur, but finding them is difficult.  This trend continues through early and mid-summer.  

That all changes when the spawning season arrives and there’s only one thing on a kokanee’s mind; mating.  

Spawning is in full swing once fall arrives, but in late summer kokes begin forming up in tight schools near tributaries and river channels.  Mid-September to October are perfect times to target pre-spawn kokanee.  They are aggressive and ready to compete for mating rites.  Put a jig in the middle of all that frenzied activity and hang on. 

Keep in mind that the water is still warm and the 54 degree water temperature that kokanee prefer is still deep.  In some lakes, you may find them in 40 to 100 feet of water.  Dawn and dusk may yield fish in shallower water but as the sun beats down, expect to catch them deeper.

Good electronics are essential

When it comes to kokanee fishing, there is no substitute for a good fish finder.  Reservoirs and lakes are too big and deep to luck your way on top of a school.  You must have a reliable way to locate and mark fish.

You don’t need to spend a fortune but don’t skimp either.  Get a unit that is sensitive enough to accurately detect the small sized kokanee in 100 plus feet of water.  Most electronic fish finders also come with GPS, which is important for marking the location of schools.   

Once you mark a school of fish, it is essential to stay on top of them when jigging.  Keep an eye on your position and adjust as necessary to stop any drifting.  If you start drifting too fast, it will be hard to accurately jig at a particular depth since your line will start angling away.

There are plenty of good fish finders on the market.  Some are better suited for kokanee fishing than others.  

At the top of my list is the Lowrance HOOK2 5.  The best price right now is on Amazon.  With detailed mapping and GPS, as well as excellent sonar capabilities, picking out isolated kokanee and big schools is no problem.  It’s not the cheapest fish finder out there but it does give you the best bang for your buck.  

Close contenders to the Lowrance HOOK2 5 are the Hummingbird HELIX 5 with CHIRP and the Garmin Striker 4.  Both offer more budget friendly options without sacrificing the needs of even the most hardcore kokanee addicts.  The Garmin unit is particularly well suited for kayak anglers.  

The jigging setup

There’s nothing complicated about a jigging setup for kokanee.  You probably have most of the equipment already.  Here are my ideal rod, reel and line configurations based on my experience plus tips I’ve picked up from fellow anglers.  

Rod

No need to get fancy here.  Any rod with a fast action and medium power will do the trick.  I prefer a 6 to 7 footer.  As long as the rod can handle up to a 3/4 or 1 oz weight, you are good to go.  

The most important thing to look for in a rod is a sensitive tip to detect those subtle bites.  Most anglers miss those ones, but your hook ups will go through the roof if you can detect them.  Although, you still need enough back bone in a rod to quickly transmit a solid hook set.

Reel

Part of boosting your success rate means having some way of accurately judging how deep your jigging lure is.  For this, I prefer a level wind reel with a line counter to simplify the task.  You can really dial-in where the fish finder says the kokanee are holding. 

You can also use a spinning setup but you will need to drop your jig down by pulling line out in 1 foot increments, counting as you go.  I have had success with this method, but it’s a bit tedious at times.

Line

My kokanee jigging reels are all spooled with 6 to 8 pound test braided main line.  Attached to the braided line, with a double uni-knot, is a 5 foot section of fluorocarbon leader that ties onto the lure.  

The narrow diameter braided line reduces drag for getting deeper with less drift.  It also gives you more sensitivity to detect bites since there is minimal stretch with braided and fluorocarbon lines.

It’s all about the lures

A whole slew of lures on the market are tailored for kokanee jigging.  Don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect color though.  Any bright pink, chartreuse or orange color will do.  Even a bit of silver is good for adding some flash.  It is more about using the right size and weight for the application and conditions.

Start with 3/8 to 1/2 oz jigs early in the morning or late at night when the fish run more shallow.  Once they descend past 50 feet, put on something a bit heavier to reach them faster.  I seldom use anything over 1 oz.  

If you’re like me and want to experiment with some different lures, try out some glow in the dark varieties.  At depths of a 100 feet or more, very little light will reach your lure.  I have found that glow lures actually increase my hook up rates with kokanee.  

Here are a few of the best kokanee jigging lures you should try:

  • Cripple Herring
  • Gibb’s Minnow
  • Buzz Bombs
  • Bomber Slabs  
  • Revenge Spoons

Occasionally, I will add a slight bend to the lure I am using to increase its action if I think it’s not getting enough attention.  

Kokanee are aggression strikers.  They seldom hit lures out of hunger so the more you irritate them the better.  Many anglers like to tip their hooks with scents and corn.  Garlic and anise flavor is a tried and true choice for many.  

Pro-Cure gel scents are a handy addition to most kokanee tackle kits.  A vast array of choices are available and all work well.

Simple techniques for jigging success

Jigging is a simple form of angling but a few additional pointers might help you seal the deal on more fish.  

  • Jig a few feet above the fish you mark on your fish finder.  Kokanee see above them better than below.  Keep your jigging action within their sight and they will ascend to strike.  Keeping it above the school should also decrease the amount of foul hook ups caused by snagging.
  • Don’t jig too aggressively.  Point your rod tip at a slight downward angle and lift the tip 8 to 10 inches at a time.  Start subtle and work towards more vigorous action if the fish seem uninterested.
  • Let the jig flutter naturally as it descends but avoid slack line.  The majority of strikes are going to happen as the jig falls and kokanee have short, quick strikes.  With slack in the line, they can spit the lure before you even know what happened. Keep the line tight in a controlled decent and you will feel more bites. 

The jig is up

The secret’s out!  Jigging for kokanee is not the slouch most anglers think it is.  If you want to hook one fish after another, then cut the motor and drop a jig.  

Jigging is ideal for anglers without downriggers or expensive trolling gear.  Kayak anglers no longer need to feel left out when it comes time to show off their kokanee limits.  

Whether you successfully troll or have never caught a kokanee in your life, spice things up with jigging and you won’t be disappointed.