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Kokanee Fishing On Utah’s Strawberry Reservoir

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Photo by Spencer Durrant

I don’t know much of anything about fishing – except that I love it.

As a fingerling, I grew up on Utah’s small trout streams, fishing with my trusty Ugly Stik for wild rainbow trout. A small creek near my home held a few decent fish, and when I was 15, I wrangled in what still stands as the record catch for that trickle of water – a 2 pound, 14.5 inch rainbow trout.

As I grew up, my interest in catching fish expanded, and I was curious about the salmon. I was raised on trout, and taught by my father that trout were the only fish worth my time to chase. Luckily for me, salmon and trout are in the same family (along with char!) so salmon fishing was an acceptable endeavor to pursue. I just never quite had the time or resources to do it.

Photo by Spencer Durrant.
Photo by Spencer Durrant.

So when I was given an opportunity to chase a lifelong dream by catching kokanee salmon on Strawberry Reservoir, I immediately cleared my schedule and said, “Yes!”

Travis, a fishing buddy of mine, graciously offered to take me on a kokanee trip this past Friday. Travis is a bit of a pro when it comes to catching salmon, and I was very lucky to go fishing with someone as good at it as him.

I should add that before this trip, I had fished from a boat maybe three other times in my life. I am a streams/rivers/ponds kind of fisherman, and the most I get ‘out on’ actual water is when I lug a float tube with me.

I went into this trip knowing nothing about salmon fishing, and came away knowing slightly more than nothing about salmon fishing. That’s as it should be.

The Great Salmon Excursion of 2014 began Friday night in Heber, Utah. Heber is a large town just south of Utah’s famous Park City, home of world-class skiing and the Sundance Film Festival. I met up with Travis, his wife, and their awesome 1-year old son before we headed up Daniel’s Canyon towards Strawberry Reservoir.

Strawberry is a large reservoir nestled in the heart of the Wasatch mountains, home to a thriving population of cutthroat and rainbow trout, in addition to kokanee salmon. Strawberry receives incredible amounts of angling pressure, yet still manages to produce quality fish year-round. The Utah state record kokanee (6lbs) and cutthroat (26lbs 12oz) came from Strawberry.

We arrived at our campsite in the Soldier Creek campground a little after dark. After a night of catching crawdads (we caught 248 in one night!) we hit the hay for a few hours before getting the boat out on the water before first light.

Strawberry at sunrise. Photo by Spencer Durrant.
Strawberry at sunrise. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Travis went over how to use a downrigger, an extraordinarily interesting concept to someone used to using sinking fly line to control the depth of my tackle. After a practice run releasing the line from the stacker, we got to fishing. Within minutes, a little 11 inch rainbow paid us a visit, flopping away before I could get his picture. Not long after, though, a healthy sized cutthroat said hello.

17 inch cutthroat. Photo by Spencer Durrant.
17 inch cutthroat. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Cutthroat are good fish, and fighting healthy-sized fish to the surface is great on any given day – just not on a day dedicated to the pursuit of salmon.

The morning dragged on, giving way to afternoon, and still our hooks had yet to yield a kokanee. Travis told me that when I hooked a kokanee, I’d be able to tell. The cutthroat in Strawberry tend to act more like a dead weight on the end of the line, only fighting when they near the surface. The salmon, on the other hand, would tug and jerk the entire way up.

I was starting to feel my hope slip at hooking a kokanee when Travis, who was watching two of the four rods we had out, shouted, “Blue has a bite!”

I jumped up, heading to the rod with the blue reel. I pulled in some line, popped the pole free of the downrigger, and started reeling. I felt a fish on the end, and it was fighting in a much different way than anything else I’d caught yet.

“I think it’s a koke!” I hollered. Travis was busying himself with the net while I was concentrating on not losing the fish. After a good tussle, we saw a silvery fish break the surface behind the boat, and Travis yelled, “It’s a kokanee!”

Deftly, Travis scooped up the salmon in the net and brought it on board, and I stared at my first kokanee with an immense feeling of relief. I’d finally caught a salmon!

19" 3lb Kokanee Salmon. Photo by Spencer Durrant.
19″ 3lb Kokanee Salmon. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

The first salmon, a male just beginning changes for the spawn, was a hair under 20 inches, and pushing 3 pounds on the scales!

Photo by Spencer Durrant.
Photo by Spencer Durrant.

The expression on my face says it all!

Another female kokanee came to hand shortly after that, and she brought some serious wind with her. Travis and I decided that fighting the wind wasn’t worth it anymore, so we headed back to the marina, victorious.

I accomplished what I wanted too, which would have been impossible without the help of an expert like Travis. Catching salmon for the first time was amazing! If you’ve never been, it’s an experience I highly recommend.

I know these kokanee aren’t the biggest, but they represent the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of catching salmon. This experience just goes to show how much any fisherman can still learn through the years. I’m far from knowing much of anything about fishing, but I do know this – I sure do love it.

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What’s your most satisfying catch? Leave any great stories in the comments and share this post on social media!

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Kokanee Fishing On Utah’s Strawberry Reservoir