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Kokanee in Donner swelling up

As a kokanee fishery, Donner Lake has taken a back seat to Stampede Reservoir for decades.

Stampede is a flooded meadow with a rich food chain. It has a reputation as the big fish lake in the Truckee area. The only exception would be the large mackinaw in Donner Lake. In the kokanee angling world, Stampede has traditionally out-produced Donner Lake. Well, that has changed.

For the last four years, there has been a progression of ever-larger kokanee each season in Donner Lake. Four years ago in late summer, 16- to 18-inch fish were common when they were at maximum size before spawning. Recent catches by guides Keith Kerrigan of Truckee and Rick Kennedy of Grass Valley have consistently produced 16- to 18-inch fish.



This past weekend, Ric Brown from the Sacramento Valley landed a 19-inch kokanee. This is in mid-May, with the three best growing months still ahead. Kokanee can grow an inch per month in the summer and we may see a lot of fish well over the 20-inch mark.

There is a correlation between the number of fish planted and their size at maturity. With a constant food source, fewer fish planted should result in larger individuals. But for the last five years, the number of fish planted has remained nearly constant at 50,000. There is local speculation that the food source has increased, as recent catches have had their stomachs packed with plankton.



The past winter, though wet, was relatively mild. Kokanee are plankton feeders and marginally warmer water may have allowed for increased plankton production.

Another speculation is that the mackinaw are doing well at eating their way through the kokanee population. Kerrigan caught a 13-pound mackinaw on kokanee gear during the weekend. Whatever the reason, the best kokanee fishing in the Truckee region has been in Donner Lake.

Kerrigan, who runs the Sierra Guide Service, begins his kokanee season in May on Stampede. He will switch over to Donner in late May. This year he has spent the majority of his month on Donner. He says that he will “catch fewer fish on Donner but the quality makes up the difference”.

The water temp on Donner is 58 degrees, up 2 degrees since last Friday, even with the weather system that came through during the weekend. The fish are being caught between 20- and 35-feet deep.

Kerrigan recommends starting with pink as a lure color on Donner Lake. He has had the most success recently with his “Sierra Anglers” Pink or Pink and Purple Kokanee Bugs. These were fished behind a pink/copper Vance’s dodger. Kerrigan has good luck using copper-plated dodgers under overcast skies. He will switch from copper when skies clear. Keith’s second choice for lure color on Donner is chartreuse.

Another interesting observation that Kerrigan made was “there has been one plant of 4,500 rainbows in early May. Normally these fish will stretch out along the north shore of the lake east of the launch ramp. These fish have disappeared and no one has seen them since.”

Denis Peirce is a fishing columnist for The Union, the Sun’s sister paper in Grass Valley.


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