The summer Kokanee salmon season on Whiskeytown Lake is now in full swing and good numbers of 15”-17” Kokanee are being caught by our fishing guides almost daily. The start to this years Kokanee salmon fishing arrived this summer following the aftermath of the devastating Carr Fire in Shasta County last year. The ecological damage was staggering, especially in the area surrounding Whiskeytown Lake. It wasn’t clear if we would even have a viable season this year after the massive fire damage to the surrounding landscape which left thousands of acres scared by the burns to the trees and ground vegetation. Winter and spring rains were unprecedented in 2019 and the debris flows and soil pushed into the Whiskeytown system was profound. Our Mother Earth has provided for our Whiskeytown Lake after the fire devastation and the area is now well on its way to recovery. For the time being, it would appear that the Kokanee have faired very well given the conditions they have seen this past year, and only time will tell how future generations will be affected.
Fishing locations on Whiskeytown Lake
Fishing for Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake is fairly easy due to its size. Its a fairly small lake just west of Redding, Ca. and is bordered by National Parks land. It has three boat launch facilities and two small marinas. Oak Bottom Marina, which is located off of SR 299 on the west end of the lake, has the best all around facilities for day and overnight use of Whiskeytown Lake. The Whiskey Creek Boat Launch is located on the north end of the lake off of Whiskey Creek Rd. It is solely a launch facility with three launch lanes, some beach areas, and has restroom facilities. Most day use fisherman use Whiskey Creek because of its quick and easy access. Brandy Creek has a small marina, a boat launch, and a nice swimmers beach. Its the most cumbersome launch to get to on the lake, but is very well maintained and has its appeal to visitors as well.
Whiskey Creek Boat Launch is used most often by fishermen and for good reason. Its the closest launch to Redding, and the most heavily fished area of the lake. The Whiskey Creek arm is a very productive location to fish for Kokanee and offers the most wind protection when conditions apply. Many people fish in and around the SR 299 Bridge, (Green Bridge) and a lot of Kokanee are caught there in spring and summer. Outside the green bridge is the main body of Whiskeytown and many Kokanee are caught over open, deep water. Once in the main body, looking west along SR 299 is the Buoy line, which can be very productive, and to the far east is the cold water curtain. The cold water curtain often holds some of the largest Kokanee in the lake! Looking south from the cold water curtain, you will see the Whiskeytown Lake dam, which sits high above its drainage into Clear Creek below.
Looking back towards the west, you’ll be viewing the main body of the lake which is also where the main channel winds below the waters surface. Kokanee often hold over the deep water channel in the currents that carry Plankton to feeding Kokanee through the main body of the lake. Mid lake and to the south is Brandy Creek. Brandy Creek can hold some descent Kokanee at times, but primarily early in the season when the water is cold. Brandy Creek is rather shallow and warms up quickly. Finally, the far west end of the lake is where Oak Bottom is located and it also has its hot spots. It is on the Clear Creek Arm and often has cold water coming into the lake year round. It fishes best in spring and early summer because it too is rather shallow compared to the main body of the lake.
Whiskeytown Lake tackle and trolling tips
Trolling for Kokanee on Whiskeytown Lake is the most popular technique used to catch them. Because of the light gear that is most commonly used to catch Kokanee and the depths at which Kokanee are most commonly found during the peak of the season, downriggers are used by most anglers during the summer months. Early in the season Kokanee can be caught flat lining or trolling lead core, but to take full advantage of the best fishing during summer, downriggers are essential.
The most common presentation used for catching Kokanee involves trolling a small dodger and a micro hoochie or a fly. The color combinations are endless and when the bite is really on, many colors will work when trolling for Kokanee. When I first started fishing Whiskeytown Lake for Kokanee, I used a silver “Wild Thing” dodger made by Crystal Basin Tackle and a double hook leader with a #10 Spin-N-Glo stacked on a #10 Corky. I liked the leaders to be about 10” long and always have tipped the hooks with Shoe Peg corn. I really like the Pautzke Bait Co. Fire Corn, just add some Atlas Mikes Tuna-Garlic scent and your set. Pink and Orange have always worked for me, even in my early days on Whiskeytown. I’ve used a lot of Kokanee gear since then and can honestly say that everything on the market at one time or another will catch Kokanee on Whiskeytown Lake. In fact, I went through a phase when making my own Kokanee flys and I only used them when fishing for Kokanee. I still use them to this day, but everything you need is available on the Kokanee tackle market so tying your own gear is optional.
Your tackle selection will catch Kokanee, but you have to get your baits in front of them first. Kokanee are temperature sensitive like most salmon and tend to suspend in cold water. Water temperatures will vary throughout the year so keeping tabs on where the thermocline is located will be very helpful. The water is cooler in the winter and spring months, but when summer arrives, the Kokanee will start dropping deeper. I’ve always done pretty well in the 55 degree range whether it is at 25’ or 70’. A good sonar unit will often times show you where the Kokanee are located in the water column, but chasing water temps can be really effective sometimes as well.
Whiskeytown lake can be windy in the mornings, but it usually calms down around 10:00 am. That makes trolling much easier, especially for those of us who have a big boat. Wind makes it hard to steer where you want to go and can really mess with your trolling speed. Its really important to monitor trolling speed. In fact, its critical in my opinion. I’ve had a hot bite shut off only to realize I had the wind at my back and my trolling speed was too fast. I slow down and boom, its fish on! if you’re out on Whiskeytown fishing around me and you’re trolling past me like I’m standing still, you’re not going to catch very many Kokanee. Watch the other boats that have nets in the air and troll the speed they are trolling. Take it a step further and just ask the guys that are catching fish how deep they are. Trolling between 1.1-1.5 mph at the correct depth will get you bites. If not, your colors aren’t firing or you forgot to use your scented corn. Those things are really important!
Hire a kokanee salmon fishing guide
The fastest way to learn how to fish for Kokanee in Whiskeytown Lake is to hire a professional fishing guide. Call any of the sporting goods stores around Redding and ask for a recommendation for a good Whiskeytown Lake guide who is willing to share their information and or get you started on the basics of Kokanee fishing. Better yet, call me and I will provide a reference or recommendation as well. I’m booked solid until October now and won’t be available for Kokanee trips for the rest of the season so Im happy to help get you in a boat with a professional and knowledgable Kokanee salmon fishing guide on Whiskeytown Lake.
I can assure you that this is not a year to pass on as far as Kokanee fishing is concerned. Kokanee, like most fish have up and down cycles and this year is definitely an up cycle. Most guides are able to get their clients into limits daily and have even been fishing for guide limits as well. This is yielding heavy bags of fillets for our clients and people are going home very happy with their Whiskeytown Lake fishing experience. Good luck and if you have questions feel free to send me a short email and I’ll answer what I can to help you out.