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How to Fish the Kokanee Spawn on the Dream Stream

- Rick Schroeder

The South Platte River offers some of the best kokanee salmon fishing in Colorado, during the fall salmon spawning run. Cody fighting a kokanee salmon on the dream stream Wherever you choose to fly fish for kokanee salmon in Colorado, centering your efforts around the fall spawn run not only is your best shot at catching a kokanee on a fly but plays into the natural instincts of the fish. In the fall when the water temperatures drop below 55 degrees the 3 and/or 4 year old kokanee salmon in the reservoirs begin to change, they lose their silvery color and turn bright red; the males form large hook jaws all for one reason; to battle for the best spawning ground and their right to spawn. Kokanee prefer to spawn over clean gravel beds in deeper pools from the rivers they were hatched from or in Colorado's case, where they were stocked from. The instinct to head up river and battle for the prime spawning ground can be used against these fish to entice them to strike your fly.
You don not need any high tech ultra elite fly fishing rod and gear to trick and catch these fish, so any fly fishing beginner would have a blast targeting these hard fighting salmon. My preferred rod is a 9 foot 5wt rod; I�ve used the cheap scientific angler rods to the high end Orvis rods. You will catch just as many on either rod. A 9 foot, 8lb test leader and 8lb tippet are also recommended, especially on rivers that are catch and release like the South Platte river (Dream Stream), Gunnison river, and Taylor river. These fish fight hard and don�t need extra lines and flies hanging off them as they make their way up river. Weight is an often under estimated tool when targeting kokanee, you have to bounce the bottom when targeting kokanee so I use at least an 1/8 ounce round split shot weight to get it down to the strike zone faster and keep it there.Mojo Mud or moldable tungsten are also great options as you can adjust it by adding more or removing some. Place the weight 8 to 10 inches above the fly.In my opinion the strike indicator is the most important thing, especially for beginners. I use yarn indicators as they are very sensitive and you can see the subtle strikes.
The flies
I use two main flies: red San Juan worms and egg patterns. For the eggs I prefer the soft clear orange or yellow eggs or clear hot glue eggs, they look more spawning egg pattern fly realistic. But these are not the only flies you can use. I often use red copper johns or any other kind of red fly. Size is not important. The use of certain flies plays into the instincts of the fish. When you catch a kokanee during the spawn run you will see scars on them. This is from the fighting and jockeying for positions in the holes for the spawn. The use of the red color sparks this instinct and they will try to bite and swat at anything red during this period of the spawn. I use the egg patterns for two reasons. The first, you will notice most of the kokanee you catch on the eggs are females. The logic behind this is the females want their eggs to survive more then any other so they will eat, crush, and try to destroy any other species of eggs. That�s why orange or yellow works so well. The second reason I use eggs, is because in the fall the brown trout move up to spawn as well, however they will sit behind the kokanee and gorge themselves on eggs. I would go into more detail but that is for another article.
Lastly the most important piece of equipment you can have for this type of fishing; polarized glasses. I cannot stress how important a good set of polarized glasses are, not only do they protect your eyes, they eliminate the glare on the water surface allowing you to peer into the water below. You will need them to locate the pods of salmon you wish to fish.
Rick Fighting a kokanee salmon on the south platteWhere to find the desired species? Kokanee salmon will be found in deeper pools that are lined with gravel. Look for these at the bends in the river or at the bottom of small drops or falls.Also, along deep weed beds as they will hold there before moving up stream. On the Dream Stream in the early part of the run (mid-October), you will want to start below the DOW spawning operation. If the water temperatures remain between 42 to 55 degrees the kokanee will be found in almost any deep hole, as they will stage there waiting for the next pods to move up and force them out of the holes and upstream.
The technique here is pretty simple and you will quickly adapt your own tweaks to fit your style. After you locate the fish either by seeing them with your glasses, seeing one porpoise? Or just guess and cast upstream a few feet above the pod. Cast far enough in front that the weight will get the flies down to the strike zone of these fish. As the strike indicator floats watch for any pauses and set the hook, even on the slightest of pauses. Remember hook sets are free. Many times it will be just weeds or the gravel but you don�t want to take the chance and not set the hook and have it be a fish. Since these fish no longer are eating to survive they will not hold anything in their mouth long before they spit it. The best hook set will be a straight lift of the rod above your head, the good thing about this hook set is that you will notice a resistance right away, so if it was the bottom you can stop and let it go back to drifting down stream.
The drift is also a little different than when targeting trout, when you cast upstream mend your line so that the indicator is upstream or parallel to the flies. Let the flies dead drift, but be sure to allow the flies to swing at the end of the drift as a lot of strikes will come with the unnatural change in motion of the red flies. Kokanee are very protective of their territory and will find them a threat.
I don�t fight the fish on the reel but a lot of people do its just personal preference. They fight hard and you will find your arm getting tired, so whatever works best for you. Its best to make the salmon run downstream by pointing your rod tip downstream, they will turn and run back upstream. Do this until they are ready to come in. When you are ready to bring it in, simply land it as you would any trout.
I love fishing the kokanee run on the South Platte River. If you live close or are planning a trip to the area I hope you find this helpful. These techniques will also work on any of the kokanee runs in Colorado. If you have any questions please feel free to email me at