Big Macks and Kokes

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

It's hard to find a pairing that goes better together than a Big Mac and a large Coke. But for my money, I'll take my big macks and large kokes from a Cascade mountain lake.

Odell Lake, Crescent and Cultus are some of the coldest, deepest lakes in Oregon, which makes them good habitat for a big char we call lake trout or mackinaw. Odell and Crescent, with good populations of kokanee (a landlocked sockeye salmon) produce the biggest fish. Cultus Lake has no kokanee and the macks run smaller, but here an angler can catch more, running from 17 inches up to 20 pounds.

We fished Odell Lake and Green Peter Reservoir on back-to-back days. Early the first morning, the wind blew a riffle on Odell. Rainbows sipped in the shallows near shore. Ripples bent the reflected trees.

Andy Anderson motored out of the slip while Jon Ditgen, owner of Odell Lake Resort, and I readied the gear. Ditgen couldn't help but speculate on our timing. We should have been here the day before.

"Last week, the fishing was spectacular," Ditgen said. "One day, we landed nine before ten in the morning. The fish ranged from 10 to 22 pounds."

Lake trout and kokanee aren't native to Odell Lake, but they've been there since the 1950s, long enough for a lake trout from Odell to set the state record at over 40 pounds. Last year, Odell Lake's biggest fish tipped the scales at 33 pounds.

We would target feeding lake trout by deep-trolling M2 Flatfish, with two big nightcrawlers impaled on treble hooks. These are huge baits that present a 10- to 12-inch profile with the worms trailing off the back. A mouthful, but these macks are used to eating kokanee that big and bigger.

With the depth finder, we located the landlocked sockeye in 20 to 50 feet of water. Bigger fish showed beneath them. We zigzagged the baits five to ten feet off the bottom. When the graph climbed to 40 feet, we cranked the downrigger balls up to 35 or better to keep the lures out of the weeds.

The rod tips wobbled with the action of the Flatfish. Then one rod bounced and buried as - 30 feet down - a fish grabbed the lure and turned. I plucked the rod from the holder and set the hook.

He threw himself sideways, then followed the line up. The deepwater killer of the kokanee shook his head and wallowed. In a few minutes we had him alongside, but fortunately for him, he proved three inches shy of the legal length. In Odell, the lake trout limit is one. To be kept, the fish must be 30 inches long. The next one was two inches shy and the ones we missed were probably pushing the state record.

In many northwest lakes, the fortunes of lake trout are linked to the kokanee on which they feed. In lakes where both species are found, you can target one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. If you've been targeting macks, you've likely found the kokanee already.

We chased kokanee the next day on Green Peter Reservoir, outside of Sweet Home.

Kokanee feed in schools of similar-sized fish and can be easy to catch when conditions are right. Full-grown, they average 12 to 18 inches. As soon as the sun hits the water, the plankton go deeper and the kokanee follow. Like their nemesis, kokanee are most easily enticed in the early morning, but they can be invited to dinner at lunchtime as well.

Bill Kremers of Oregon River Trails guides a few trips on Green Peter Reservoir each year. He had a day open so he brought Ken Harrell along. I enlisted the aid of two 11-year-olds to help us run our flashers in the deep water at midday.

Adrienne Luoma's order came up first, but the silver-sided kokanee threw the hook right next to the boat. Mikayla's first bite was a false alarm, but the next one stuck long enough for Ken to slip the net beneath it.

Jigging is a favorite technique early in the year, but trollers seem to do better in the summer. An easy rig, whether using a downrigger or not, consists of an eight-inch flasher on the main line with four feet of leader terminated at an Apex or Wedding Ring spinner. Most anglers add white corn and season it by adding a scent like Pautzke's Krill.

Paulina, East, Lake Billy Chinook, Detroit Lake, Wickiup, Green Peter Reservoir, Odell and Crescent are some of the best places in Oregon's Cascades for 10- to 18-inch kokanee.

Sometimes, you have to look beyond the easier-caught small fry and try for a fish that takes two hands to hold onto. Many northwest lakes that contain the biggest populations of kokanee also have the big-bellied predators that keep them in check. When you want to catch a trophy, troll deep and order up a big mack. For all day action, go for kokes.

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