Vancouver Island anglers no longer need to travel to the B.C. Mainland to fish for the celebrated small-lake kokanee.
The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and provincial fisheries staff recently announced that after several years of testing, two small lakes on Vancouver Island have now been established as stocked kokanee lake fisheries.
Located in the central Island mountains, Shelton Lake is about 25 kilometres west of the Nanaimo, and is accessed off Nanaimo Lakes Road via M Branch (1 km) and then G Branch (3.5 km to lake). A cartop-style boat launch is available at the southern end of the lake, the society says.
Farther north, Beavertail Lake is located in the wilderness 20 km west of Campbell River, and is accessed via the well-maintained Elk River Mainline gravel road (7 km) from the Gold River Highway. Recent improvements by Campbell River Fish and Wildlife Association include a fishing dock and day-use facilities.
While some kokanee populations occur naturally in Mainland lakes with connections to migrating sockeye, others, like the two Vancouver Island lakes, have been stocked. The Province began stocking non-reproductive kokanee into Shelton and Beavertail lakes in 2020 to see if they’d survive and grow large enough to support a fishery. As non-reproductive fish, they’re unable to establish a population in either location.
The Freshwater Fisheries Society notes that the kokanee appear to be doing well in the coastal lakes with some fish already reaching sizes of up to 30 centimetres – expected to increase by 3 to 5 cm this summer.
What are kokanee?
The freshwater form of colourful sockeye salmon, kokanee spend almost their entire lives in a single lake. While smaller than their ocean-venturing cousins, they look very similar, but retain a silvery colour until mature.
They’re also fun fish to catch, says Sue Pollard, in her blog for the society.
“Depending on the season, these feisty fish can put up a good fight. As an added bonus, they are delicious table fare, and many anglers prefer the taste of kokanee over trout,” Pollard says.
Preferring cooler waters, you’ll typically find kokanee in the middle of the lake for much of the year, heading deeper as the weather warms, but they may move to shallower areas in the spring during insect hatches.
How to catch kokanee
Kokanee are typically accessible throughout the year, even to the novice angler, but given their preference for cool waters, a boat will typically be needed for success, Pollard says.
“A classic set-up is to troll a kokanee lure with corn-baited hook behind a small dodger or micro flasher off a downrigger, or simply drop a two-ounce weight with a worm on a hook down to where the fish are,” Pollard says, recommending two blogs for further reading: Nick Basok’s Guide to Trolling for Kokanee Salmon in Lakes and Mike Ramsay’s Kokanee Fishing Tips Through the Seasons.
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