How to Catch Kokanee and Other Landlocked Salmon Species

Salmon is one of those fish that are on the bucket list of almost every angler. There’s something about their mystique that entices even the most experienced anglers. Sadly, those …

Salmon is one of those fish that are on the bucket list of almost every angler. There’s something about their mystique that entices even the most experienced anglers. Sadly, those bucket list trips to a fishing lodge in pursuit of trophy salmon aren’t easily accomplished. Cue landlocked salmon. Landlocked salmon are freshwater salmon that fall in the same species as sea-run salmon. Landlocked salmon use large inland bodies of water like reservoirs and lakes as surrogate locations. Once they’re ready to spawn, they’ll enter the rivers and lay/fertilize the eggs. Landlocked salmon share many characteristics with their sea-run relatives.

Types of Landlocked Salmon

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon can be found in Maine and New York and they are either stocked or natural.

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon fisheries are found in the Northeast United States. Now, these are not sea run Atlantic salmon, but they are similar. Their life cycle is essentially the same as the life cycle of a sea run Atlantic salmon. While these populations aren’t massive, there are healthy populations in Maine and New York. Many of these populations are stocked, but some are natural!

These fish look quite similar to the Atlantic salmon you would find running out of the ocean. That silver shine is still as beautiful as ever. Where they differ most is their size. These fish often are somewhere between three and five pounds.

Landlocked Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye Salmon, also known as Kokanee Salmon, are native to the western part of North America. Kokanee salmon are landlocked sockeye salmon. These fish have found themselves all over large lakes and reservoirs across the United States. Kokanee fishing is the most common form of landlocked salmon fishing. You’ll find runs of them in Colorado and other western states. Late fall is a great time to catch these fish in their spawning runs.

While these fish only grow to be a few pounds and around 20 inches, they’re a blast to catch! There’s something so unique about catching a salmon in the middle of the United States. You’ll see the same bright red color on these fish when they’re “spawned out”. Kokanee anglers are as diehard as they come!

Landlocked Chinook/King Salmon

Most landlocked king salmon can grow around 10 pounds.

Surprisingly, California has a nice population of landlocked king salmon. For the past several decades, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife have stocked these in lakes all over the state. These fish look fairly similar to their ocean relatives, but they don’t nearly grow as large as them. Most landlocked king salmon are around 10 pounds! They’ll spawn in their native rivers that are connected to the lake or reservoir! Fall and spring are the most successful times of year to land them.

These fish respond well to trolling slowly and live bait. In order to attract fish, you’re going to have to be particular with what methods you’re using! Landlocked king salmon are still going to give you the legendary fish that the ocean run fish do.

Landlocked Coho Salmon

The Western United States and Canada have a nice population of landlocked coho salmon. These fish have a similar silver shine that the ocean run Coho Salmon do. Fall and spring are the most active times for these fish. You’ll find that these fish are only a few pounds and around 25 inches! While they’re not huge, they’re active and going to give you a great fight.

Characteristics of Landlocked Salmon

When landlocked salmon are young, they’ll feed on small insects and invertebrates. Once they’re grown, they’ll keep the similar predator habits that the ocean-dwelling salmon do. They’ll feed on smaller salmon, baitfish and other meat that they can find. These fish often live where lake trout do, so that’s a favorite meal for them if they can find it.

While many landlocked salmon populations are stocked, they’re usually able to reproduce on their own each year. If possible, these fish are going to live in water that’s somewhere around 50 degrees. This means that they’ll go extremely deep in the summer, but be more willing to feed higher in the fall and spring!

These fish will still go back to their native waters to spawn. Also, they will die after the spawn just like non-landlocked salmon do. Early spring or late fall are the most common times for these fish to spawn!

Odds are, you’re going to not find a landlocked salmon that’s over 15 pounds, but it’s definitely possible. Most are going to going to be around five to seven pounds.

Top Spots for Catching Landlocked Salmon in the US and Canada

Choose a spot for each type of landlocked salmon and provide details about it

West Grand Lake, Maine

West Grand Lake in Maine has a nice population of landlocked Atlantic Salmon. This lake is 15,000 acres and is plenty deep for these fish to thrive. The oxygen levels are proper and the food sources are plentiful. You can troll for these fish with lures or live bait. Or, you can fly fish for them as they begin their spawns. Pay close attention to the water temperature because this will determine where in the water column these fish are sitting.

Trinity Lake, California

Trinity Lake in California has a nice population or landlocked Chinook Salmon. They’ve been stocked in these waters since the 1990’s. Since this lake is 17,000 acres, you’re going to have to do a fair share of searching to find these fish. Often, the water near the dam is the most productive! You’ll find that these fish are most likely to feed in the spring and summer.

Gunnison River, Colorado

The Gunnison River in Colorado has a healthy population of Kokanee Salmon that run through it in the late fall. Colorado actually has populations of these fish in the Blue Mesa, Elevenmile, Antero and Green Mountain Reservoirs. Most anglers will fly fish for the Kokanee in the fall.

Lake Watshishou, Quebec, CA

If you want a true chance at a monster landlocked salmon, Lake Watshishou north of Havre-Saint-Pierre in Quebec is a great place to visit. There are dozens of lakes in this area that hold great populations of landlocked salmon! It takes some traveling to get this far north, but once you make it, you have almost guaranteed yourself a double-digit landlocked salmon.

Lobstick Lake, Newfoundland, CA

Lobstick Lake in Newfoundland, Canada holds the provincial record of 22 pounds. This is impressively large for a landlocked Atlantic salmon! You can fish this lake yourself or hire a guide to put you on a few of them. Newfoundland itself has dozens and dozens of lakes with these fish.

How to Catch Landlocked Salmon

Lure Fishing

Lure fishing is going catch salmon. Most often, anglers are going to troll with lures to give themselves the best chance. You can use stickballs like Rapala’s, Spoons like the Flash King and other sorts of lures like the Super Duper. If you don’t like any of these lures, the Eppinger Daredevil is great.

Use a 7 or 8-foot medium heavy or heavy rod with a matching bait casting reel. Use 15 or 20 pound test when pursuing these fish. They’re going to jump and give you an extremely good fight, so make sure you’re able to handle them.

If you’re going after these fish in still water, make sure to vary your trolling speeds when you’re pursuing these fish. A fish finder can also help you get on them. As the spawning season gets closer, move towards the dam if it’s a reservoir or the river mouths if it’s a natural lake. Fish in water that’s somewhere around 50 degrees.

If you’re fishing in moving water, you can swing these lures in the current like you would a fly or you can do a retrieval through slow-moving water. Slack water is a great place to find these fish. They’ll stack up, so they can dart into the current to find their food.

Fly Fishing

When fly fishing for landlocked salmon, you’re going to want to use a 5 or 6-weight rod. Some will use a spey rod, but that’s not necessary for landlocked salmon. In terms of techniques, don’t doubt the productivity of swinging or dead drifting your patterns.

Find the slack water if you’re pursuing these fish. Often, you’ll even be able to sight fish for landlocked salmon. If the water is clear, this is a great method. Let your fly drift across their faces and see if you can get any to bite.

Flies like the Muddler Minnow and Woolly Bugger are great options! However, don’t forget about the Magog Smelt or any sort of Egg Sucking Leech. Ideally, you’re going to want to use something with a decent amount of weight and flash.

Final Thoughts on How to Catch Landlocked Salmon

Catching a landlocked salmon is a unique experience. Something almost feels wrong about it. However, it’s an absolute blast and a great alternative to a big west or east coast trip at an expensive lodge. You can still get a similar experience due to landlocked salmon’s aggressiveness!

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Danny Mooers is a passionate fly fishing and angling writer from Arizona. Danny loves sharing his passion for fly fishing for trout and other species through his work for Tackle Village.
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