Fisheries researchers estimated that over 2.5 million adult kokanee occupied Lake Pend Oreille in the fall of 2019. This is the highest count on record since the mid-1990’s. As summer heats up, reports are starting to roll in that anglers are reaping the benefits of a highly abundant kokanee population.
Tom Anderson at North 40 in Ponderay has been hearing good things from his customers. “One of our guys has been fishing in Ellisport Bay and they knocked them dead the other night,” shared Anderson. “I’ve also heard some good reports out of Garfield and the odd report of good fishing at the Monarchs.”
Most kokanee anglers know that when there are lots of fish, individuals tend to be smaller. “That’s because when more kokanee compete for a limited food supply, they all get less to eat and growth slows down,” said Sr. Fishery Research Biologist Sean Wilson.
The large population would normally have biologists predicting smaller-than-average adult sizes. However a “bonus class” of four-year-old fish may be boosting the fishery, both in numbers and in size.
“As of last fall, some of the age-three fish hadn’t matured yet,” said Wilson. “They were big enough to catch in fall 2019 and will only be bigger this year.”
So far, there are good signs that these four-year-olds are contributing to the quality fishing on Pend Oreille. Anglers are reporting average kokanee size is nine or 10 inches. By fall, these fish will have grown another inch.
Biologists believe aggressive predator suppression for lake trout and walleye, coupled with low numbers of Mysis freshwater shrimp, are creating good conditions for abundant kokanee right now.
Kokanee are the keystone of the Lake Pend Oreille fisheries. Not only are they a popular sport fish in their own right, but they also provide the necessary forage to grow world-class rainbow trout, sustain native bull trout and feed a myriad of other predators.
Lots of young kokanee fuel trophy rainbows
Biologists have documented a boom in juvenile kokanee as well as adults. Since 2012, the number of juvenile kokanee (age one to three years old) has exceeded the 20-year average, totaling between six to 12 million fish each year.
Although these young fish are too small for anglers to catch, they provide the food base for big, predatory fish like rainbow trout. In fact, Pend Oreille researchers have been able to link fast rainbow trout growth rates to high juvenile kokanee abundance.
“We anticipate that trophy rainbows have been growing at rates on par with the early ‘90s,” said Wilson.
To that end, a young angler caught a new state catch-and-release record Gerrard rainbow trout in Lake Pend Oreille in October 2019. The fish measured in at 36.5 inches.
Everyone can enjoy kokanee fishing
With promising data, fishing reports and unbeatable scenery, summer fishing on Lake Pend Oreille is shaping up to be a productive season for kokanee anglers.
People new to kokanee fishing don’t need to be intimidated by expensive gear and big-water boats. Check out these tips for an inexpensive introduction to catching these landlocked salmon.
Free Fishing Day in Idaho is June 13. No fishing license is required anywhere in the state, providing an excellent opportunity to bring new anglers out on the water. All other fishing regulations still apply.
Remember to recreate responsibly, particularly around congested access points. While all Fish and Game boat launches are open in the Panhandle, be sure to check the status of other agencies' access sites before heading in to the field.
Here's more about Fish and Game's kokanee management: