9-2-06 - Kokanee, Kokanaa, Kokanuu, Kokanah ah ah ah ah ah!
Waters Fished: Gunnison River, East River, Roaring Judy Ponds
Fish Caught: several
Outing Date: 9-2-06
Weather: Mostly Sunny
Air Temp: Lows around 30F, Highs close to 70F
Water Temp: N/A
Water Level: Normal for this time of year?
Water Color: Crystal
Fish Species: Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Kokanee Salmon
Pattern Fished: Various Beadhead Nymphs
Pattern Color: The Tucker and Pheasant Tails were the most productive.
After the first day of our trip going well minus any Kokanee hooked or landed, we vowed to return to the uppermost Gunnison River the following morning to try our luck!
We *thought* we were getting there early but we arrived to find several boats waiting to start the float downstream and anglers working the waters from any angle. Knowing that there were Kokanee here, we sucked it up and did what we could with this Root River situation.
Randy was the first to hook up - he immediately got dragged downstream at least 100 yards by the fish at the end of his line. Shortly thereafter I hooked up with one...it came to shore fouled and was quickly released. Randy made his way back upstream and tried again - this time, a beautiful and highly colored female Kokanee came to shore! The "group salmon skunk" was officialy gone.
As the day got brighter and headed towards noon, the fish that we could reach shifted position to be in the tailout on the far side of the river. Despite a prominent sign reading 'private property' being posted on that shore, one angler completely disregarded the warning and stood there, hooking salmon upon salmon while the three of us kinda scratched our heads.
That doesn't mean we didn't catch fish here. I hooked up with a fair sized brown. Shortly thereafter Renee landed a little brown as well. Soon after that, I landed a Rainbow. In short, my thought that we'd be catching trout EVEN when focusing on salmon was a reality. AND for ANYONE out there who still believes that the splitshot on the tag is just a "snaggin' rig" for our fall runs, well, I think these fair hooked trout do nothing but disprove that comdenation. In fact, other than the one guy hooking salmon and our trout, no one else was having any luck!
We decided to scout out some different water, specifically the East River. We made our way towards Roaring Judy State Fish Hatchery which sits alongside the East River and is the birthplace of the Blue Mesa / Gunnison Kokanee Run.
The water running alongside the Hatchery sure was some pretty water; it is considered "Wild Trout" water. Downstream from the hatchery's outflow for about 1 mile is obviously one of the better places to fish this time of year, but to protect the Kokanee run, this stretch of the East River is closed for a couple months out of the year at this time.
The other big draw here is a group of 4 ponds that are open to fishing and happen to be the location of the State Record Brown Trout. After stopping at some of the Wild Trout Water on the East River (and finding it crowded) we went down further and scouted out the Roaring Judy Ponds, or as Renee had original mis-heard them, the "Laura & Judy Ponds", which was quickly truncated to "Laura and Judy" for the remainder of the trip :)
2 of the ponds appeared relatively "scummy" but did have trout. The 2 remaining ponds were very healthy and absolutely filled to the brim with fish. The upper pond was very remeniscent of Paradise Springs (SE WI) before they drained it...tons of healthy browns in all sizes with vibrant colors milled about, feeding at leisure. There were also a fair amount of Rainbows.
In the lower pond Randy was the first to see it - a large group of Kokanee. As we watched the pond, we realized that there were probably THOUSDANDS of Kokanee here...every few seconds one would breach the surface and skim across the water before sinking.
We followed the flow of water from the ponds all the way to the East River...here we found clear regulations posting the closure of the East downstream from the hatchery outflow. Almost immediately upstream of this boundary were several anglers working the water.
Ultimately, we made the choice to try the ponds! Renee and I tried one side, Randy tried another, and basically the catching melee ensued! I'll state for the record now that all fishing we did on this trip was catch and release, and for MOST of the fish (and ALL KOKANEE) catch and release was mandated by "no take" regulations. I PERSONALLY to this date am not 100% sure how to interpret the Colorado regulations regarding the word "take" - it isn't clear if it means to HARVEST or to ANGLE for. We interpreted "no take" to mean "no harvest", "no creeling" etc, and that seems to be the correct interpretation.
So there's no way I could describe every battle; here's what you need to know. First, all the fish we landed were on NYMPHS. For me, the #10 Tucker Nymph produced 90% of my fish (including those two trout I landed earlier on the Gunnison). Randy had great luck with a #14 Flashback Pheasant Tail. Renee..I think she produced fish with both the Tucker and a Prince Nymph. Right off the bat, my first fish was a brown, and Renee landed 2 rainbows.
However, I think for all of us, the Kokanee were the highlight! We fished them with 4lb. tippet on 9' 4/5wt rods. 1 or 2 small splitshots got our flies sinking faster...then we'd very slowly strip retrieve them. HITS were typically HARD STRIKES...Randy even had the good fortune of being able to see most of his Kokanee CHASING HIS FLIES as he retrieved!
Once you hooked up with a Kokanee you simply HELD ON for the ride of your life. Pound for pound I'd have to say these were better than ANY trout or salmon I've tangled with to date. I think the relatively still water situation may have played a role in how the Kokanee fought.
Basically, the Kokanee we ran into here were on the fresher side. The made absolutely BLISTERING runs...in only a couple seconds you'd go from having maybe 10 feet of your flyline out to worrying that you're going to see your backing.
If they weren't RUNNING or shaking their heads they were AIRBORNE! I can't believe how WILLING the Kokanee were to jump (we lost a LOT of fish in the sky). Towards the end of the day, I actually counted one small buck that jumped TWELVE, yes 12 times before I landed it. TWELVE BACK-TO-BACK JUMPS - I literally haven't hooked up with any trout or salmon that fights this hard to date. AND FOR THE RECORD, unlike our Kings (which usually only jump if completely fouled) all our acrobatic kokanee were FAIR HOOKS!
The ponds area closes to fishing at "dusk" - another wierd term - do they mean sunset, civil dusk, or simply when the sun slides behind the mountains? We played it safe with "sunset" as our end of legal fishing time. BY that time, we all had landed many fish and had fullfilled the Kokanee mission. We were definitely "early" as most of these fish ranged from silver to olive with a tinge of pink...none of the Kokanee had made it into the full "sockeye breeding dress". Still, mission accomplished (for today).