Ice Fishing For Kokanee

Extend your fishing season and get out on the ice

Safety First

A few safety measures should be considered before going ice fishing. The time of year, outside temperatures and size of the lake (depth and surface area) should be considered when determining potential ice thickness. Once you arrive at the lake, proceed with caution by following recommended ice thickness charts and checking drilled holes every couple of feet to ensure safe ice. Always pack lighter during the beginning and end of the ice season to reduce the risk of breaking through thin spots in the ice. Walk and fish away from others to spread your weight evenly over the ice.

Be aware that some lakes in British Columbia are home to freshwater springs that can keep localized areas from freezing well into winter. These areas become dangerous, as they can create a false sense of safe ice when frozen over and disguised by the surrounding ice. Freshwater springs can also be found near areas where water gathers in one area on the ice. Safety throw ropes, self-rescuing ice picks, ice cleats, life jackets and understanding how to escape from the water should the ice break under you are all important things to consider and understand.

A tent, a heater and a fish finder can make ice fishing easier and more enjoyable.
A tent, a heater and a fish finder can make ice fishing easier and more enjoyable.

Where To Go & Why

Following social media or calling your local tackle shop can be the easiest way to help you choose lakes with safe ice and lakes that are fishing well. Choosing a productive location on the lake can be as easy as choosing a hot spot that was good during the summer months. You can be introduced to the fishery through a kokanee community on the ice. These communities can be found throughout British Columbia on most lakes. Most kokanee anglers welcome other anglers to their fishing area because increased gear in the water helps attract and hold kokanee in the area as they swim around feeding.

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Getting There & Staying Comfortable

The easiest way to transport your gear is on an ice fishing sled fixed with skis. Other options include using a backpack and sled combination or simply using a bucket with your gear inside and an ice auger in your hand will work.

Regardless of what option you choose, always remember to pack warm clothes. A layering system with a warm underlayer and a windbreaker shell (jacket and pants) will help keep your core temperature warm. Also consider bringing waterproof winter boots, gloves and a toque. A simple trick to help keep your feet warm is to use a piece of plywood under your feet on the ice. This can help insulate your feet from the ice and helps you “float” on soft slushy snow. If an ice fishing tent is available, make sure this is set up as soon as possible. Always anchor your tent to the ice to help prevent it from tumbling down the lake like a tumble weed. Next, turn on your tent heater and de-layer to prevent sweating.

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A sled affixed to skis is a great vehicle for getting your fishing gear out on the ice.
A sled affixed to skis is a great vehicle for getting your fishing gear out on the ice.

Setting Up Your Fishing Area

If a fish finder is available, set it up as soon as possible. A lot of ice anglers use two holes, one for their transducer and one for their fishing line. Having a separate hole for the transducer helps reduce potential damage due to the transducer getting tossed around inside the hole when fighting a fish. If a fish finder is not available, most kokanee communities will have anglers that are willing to shout out depths they are marking kokanee at. Ask for help and most people will help you learn as you fish on the ice. Anglers who remain quiet and reduce noise under the ice tend to be more successful than other anglers that are busy drilling holes and stomping around in their tent. Prepare a seat by your hole and an extra rod that is completely set up and ready to fish should a school of kokanee move into the area. If you land a kokanee, switch to your spare rod, and drop it back down to the school of kokanee in the water. Sometimes you will only have a few minutes of action and then you will have to wait for the school to come back.

Ice fishing.
Photo by iStock

Rods, Reels & Terminal Tackle

When choosing what to use for the first time, use what you have. Kokanee ice anglers tend to prefer a medium-action to stiff-action rod, compared to the soft-action rods that open water kokanee anglers use. A stiffer action will allow you to feel subtle bites from a kokanee that is being picky. Using a line counter reel can help you get back to the exact depth you were getting bites, but it is not the only way to reach the same depth consistently. When using a fish finder, you can drop your presentation down to the same depth every time by watching your attractor drop on the finder.

The next item to consider is your fishing line. Some anglers say braided ice line helps them feel bites, while others will only use mono filament line. This becomes a personal preference and experience item. Then an attractor like a Gibbs Ice Gator, Williams Whitefish or dodger is most often used when jigging for kokanee through the ice. Always have a variety of sizes. Some days a smaller attractor will work better, while other days a medium to large-sized attractor will be what the kokanee prefer. Leader lengths vary from eight to 24 inches and usually depend on what the kokanee want. If you are not getting bites, but see kokanee coming into your presentation, make sure you change something. At the end the line, small jigs and spoons are most often used with a single hook as the focal point for a kokanee to strike. These jigs are sometimes UV glow, and some have tungsten in them to help them sink faster, which prevents leader tangles with the attractor. They are then tipped with the productive bait of the day.

A selection of lures to use when ice fishing for kokanee.

Bait Options

Kokanee ice fishing is most productive when using bait. There are a wide variety of baits and scents available on the market. It is a good idea to stock up on a variety of baits and scents before you go ice fishing for kokanee. Some days, one bait may fish better than others. Some popular bait choices are mealworms, scented corn, live pink maggots and scented deli shrimp. Other bait choices are wax worms and synthetic maggots, which can also have scent added to them. Keeping a selection of gel scents available to add to your lure is also a great idea. Popular scent choices are anise, bloody garlic tuna, garlic, krill and shrimp. 

How To Entice A Bite

Increase the odds in your favour by always fishing with another person. Ice fishing for kokanee is a great social activity and people can easily practice social distancing while fishing. More anglers in one area can prove to be more productive at times. When you are not marking fish, large jigs can help send out a loud sound wave to kokanee feeding in the distance. This sound wave and flashing gear in the water will help attract kokanee in for a closer look. As soon as a kokanee is marked on the fish finder, change the jig and slow it down so as to not spook the kokanee away. Small jigs and a pause of three to five seconds will help your jig and flasher settle out and hopefully entice a bite. Sometimes a smaller, quicker jig will work. YouTube videos can also be a great visual tool to learn how to ice fish for kokanee. If fishing in a kokanee community, ask around to learn what type of jig the kokanee are after that day. Every day can be different. Focus on your rod tip and pay attention to the smallest movement that could indicate a bite. Be patient and always try something new if the kokanee are not biting. Changing your attractor, jig or simply changing your bait can be the difference between going home empty handed or going home with dinner.

Introducing Children & New Anglers

Ice fishing for kokanee can be entertaining for children and anglers who are new to the fishery. When using an ice tent, kokanee can often be seen swimming under the ice and because they often swim around in large schools’ anglers have fun watching them chase their gear. Children can be involved in this process and will enjoy watching a kokanee under the ice. Let them choose their own attractors, jigs and lures. The best way to keep a child interested is not only to see the fish, but also to be warm and comfortable inside a tent. A tent heater helps, along with warm, dry boots and clothes. Hot chocolate, candy and hot dogs cooked over a buddy heater are also a hit and can be used to help prolong your trip. The most important aspect to a successful introduction is to let the child decide how long you will be fishing that day, even if this means a half hour after the tent is set up. A happy and fun experience will ensure you return again to catch one of the best-tasting freshwater fish in British Columba.

Get your family involved in your ice fishing adventures and make memories they won’t soon forget.
Get your family involved in your ice fishing adventures and make memories they won’t soon forget.

This article was featured in the BC Outdoors November/December 2020 issue. Order it from our Shopify store now (while supplies last) or subscribe to our magazine to keep up-to-date with all of the latest issues!

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