A "Perfect Storm" may be brewing at Wallowa Lake, even as I type away. For various reasons I will address throughout this article, the lake is currently producing some of the biggest kokanee ever caught! Last summer Jerry Logosz caught the current and official Oregon State record Kokanee that weighed a little over 7 LB. His fish eclipsed the previous record, also from Wallowa lake caught a few years earlier, that tipped the scales at 6.75 LB. Those are "monster" kokes in anybody’s book!
What has happened in the last month is unprecedented as far as these usually diminutive salmonides go. Normally, a 16-17 in. kokanee is considered a good size kokanee on most bodies of water that hold them. What has happened this winter is a phenomenon never witnessed before, at least here in Oregon. On Feb. 27, Gene Thiel jigged up an incredible kokanee that weighed 7.51 Lb. after being bled out. This fish had a length of 25 in. and a girth of over 18 in., numbers that usually don't register when talking about the size of kokanee.
Since we were doing a complimentary mount for Jerry Logosz, I had the opportunity to talk with him about his catch earlier in the year. In fact, I found out about Gene's catch during one of our conversations. After a phone call to Gene, we decided we would mount his monster as well.
Now here is where things get really exciting. Last night right before dinner, I got a call from Larry over at the Sports Corral in Joseph. He thought I would be interested in hearing about a customer, Jack Teece, who had just left the store. Seems that his wife, Wan, had caught that day, what in all probability, will turn out to be the biggest kokanee ever caught within the United States! The incredible koke weighed in at 8.23 LB. and was verified by witnesses and weighed on a certified scale at the local grocery store. They also had it checked by ODFW state biologist, Bill Knox, who taped it at 26.5 in. with a girth of over 16 in.! Looks likely that this one will go into the record books for sure.
Just think about it. The Oregon State record has fallen three times in nine months! Twice in less than a month! Wan Teece's kokanee may be the second largest kokanee ever caught and only the current World Record kokanee from Lake Okanogan weighing 9 LB. 6 oz. is bigger. It will be interesting to see what develops over the remainder of the 2010 season. With six months to go before the fall spawn, there are many now speculating that a new World Record kokanee is a real possibility. Time will tell!
Deciding that it was time for me to address this situation with an article, I got on the phone with the biologist from Enterprise, Bill Knox, to ask him some questions about this phenomenal trophy kokanee fishery. Bill was really helpful in filling in some history and a lot of details about the kokanee of Wallowa Lake.
Originally, there were sockeye runs right up into the lake. There was even a commercial canning facility around 1880-1890 that flourished for awhile. Over time the runs fell off due to paddle wheels, netting, and the damage that occurred as progress and the industrialization that took place at the turn of the century had its impact. When the dam was enlarged around 1916, that was the end of the salmon runs. In man's quest to improve on "mother nature," hatcheries were viewed as the answer to maintain stocks of fish and though they have been very successful in sustaining many fisheries around the country, they are not necessarily the end-all answer. Stocks of kokanee were pulled from all over the northwest to maintain the ebb and flow of kokanee populations in Wallowa Lake and help supplement that natural reproduction that was taking place up river and also along the shorelines.
With the introduction of lake trout and mysis shrimp in the 1950-60's, there was no visible impact on the fishery until years later. It seems that a small population of kokanee were adapting to the available forage provided in the shrimp. In many of the lakes where the shrimp were introduced the results were less than desirable, to put it mildly. The shrimp will actually compete with the juvenile kokanee for the plankton. They also tend to migrate up and down in the water column with the variation of light penetration from day to night. The bottom line is that kokanee didn't usually do well with the shrimp in the system. The shrimp also encouraged the juvenile lakers as they became an item on their diet. For now, it appears that the shrimp are partly responsible for the massive size of the largest kokanee in Wallowa Lake.
After an experimental planting program from 1988-92, the kokanee plants have stopped, at least for now. A big slide dumping into the river above the lake in 2002, has probably impacted the spawning runs for several of the last few years. The increased turbidity coupled with the negative impact on the river spawning fish, has produced fewer but bigger kokanee these past few years. Kokanee populations have a tendency to "boom and bust" every so many years and that is fairly natural. This year and last year have been unusual "boom" years for big kokanee and may continue for a while. The shrimp populations appear to be up and that will help. On another note, there appears to be a growing population of smaller mackinaw in the 4-8 LB. class and these long lived chars may be a real over-population problem in future years.
To finish up, I would like to congratulate Jack and Wan Teece on her catch of the second biggest documented kokanee ever caught. Jack told me that they picked up the monster koke around noon on Wed., March 24. They were pulling a Jack Lloyd blade set-up dragging a Double-Whammy lure with two ounces of lead to get it down. He said that Wan did a great job of playing the toad and if he didn't have a net, he wasn't sure he would have gotten it in.
I will be heading up there myself sometime this spring to see if I might get lucky.......I bet there are a lot of people thinking that same thing!