The Kokanee Cowboys

I grabbed a clutch of Taylor rods and a handful of Spawn streamers and hopped in the lifted Subie to begin my trek out to South Park.  This was just another ordinary morning living at 9,000ft elevation in the Colorado Rockies.  Late September and we had some cooler temps dipping into the high 20’s at night, I thought for sure this would get the Fall run moving and we could pick a few early fish staging up the river.  The foul comedic banter on the 60-minute drive made for a quick flight, hundreds of slanderous noteworthy obscenities echoed over hints of lettuce funk energizing the sound waves and pumping our adrenalin.

We were the first car in the lot, which was surprising knowing that any minute it could turn into a shit show reminiscent of a free fishing day on a stocked urban pond.  I quickly strapped on 40lbs of cameras, grabbed a rod and headed down to kiss the banks with some tasty meat.  Myself and 3 of my homies spread out to cover more water as the sun started to peek through the mountains to the east.  The flows were pretty good running at 111 CFS, but there was very little activity on the streamer bite.  A few small baetis were coming off but no fish rising to meet their demise.

A few hours went by without a single pick on a streamer, I questioned whether we may have made a bad choice coming out here. WTF, over?  I made my way upstream to the spillway and noticed some fish busting the surface on some really tiny baitfish but couldn’t quite tell what they were.  I quickly re-tied a small Alevin fly on, and my next cast picked a strong fish that immediately shot to the surface and started tail walking…”Oh shit, I said” …That’s a big koke.

Now, some may say…that’s a small Sockeye but I don’t think there are too many sea run rivers flowing into Colorado.  Of course, mistaken identities come easy on this species…the same genetics here but the Kokanee are a landlocked variant of the Sockeye Salmon family…Kind of the like the little brother who had to stay home in the playpen.  The Kokanee can grow up to about 10+pounds and into 27+ inches but their growth is also limited by the size of their environment.  Colorado hosts a few good spots but I never really had any desire to target these fish.  I’ve heard the Gunnison gets a good run, as well as Gross and Green Mtn. reservoirs. We were all actually surprised to see such an early run of Kokanee that thick, knowing good and well it would only be a matter of time before they morphed into zombies and their 4-year quest would be complete.

The crew regrouped after I landed that first fish and I proceeded to highlight their lack of fishing skills and talk shit about the poor degenerate anglers that I choose to hang out with.  “Score 1 for me, big fat “O” for you dirty pirate hookers, I exclaimed with a sense of entitlement.”  We camped out in that deep run after re-rigging some typical fall patterns and commenced into a true F’in Catalina Wine mixer event.  I mean, we were just slaying the kokes…despite recent information I had been told that kokanee don’t eat during pre-spawn…Bullshit, this was pure fire. We took most of our fish on Red San Juan’s, red/orange eggs, and a multitude of Psychos’, and Large size14-16 Blood Midges and red Chironomids.

So, our intention was to get into some pre-spawn browns but it just wasn’t our time, not for lack of trying that’s for damn sure.  I was glad to have cameras in-hand to be able to capture some of Kokanee beauty and dispel the myth that these fish don’t feed pre-spawn.  Spending a 100-fish day with a bunch of whiskey drinking smartass fishing buddies and hours of tight lines on western waters was a day well spent.  What a bunch of grateful shit talkers…. The Kokanee Cowboys.

P.S. In the end, we did manage to land one decent brown.

James Snyder is a CO fly fisherman running Hoodlum Photography. Check him out on Instagram @hoodlum_photography!


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