I can still remember the first time I fished Rimrock Lake for kokanee. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time. I was fishing with my grandparents in their 16-foot fiberglass runabout. The little boat had a windshield and those funky seats that sat back-to-back.
This was in the early 1960’s, so there were no such things as depth finders or downriggers. My grandparents liked to troll with leaded line, and at Rimrock they would put a string of attractors on the line ahead of a small spoon. The attractors, probably Ford Fenders or Cow Bells, weighed so much and put so much pull on the line that it was often hard to feel the tug of one of the small kokanee, or “silvers” as everyone called them.
The little white and red boat also had no rod holders. So, if you were fishing with my grandparents, you were holding your fishing rod.
Even at the tender age of 8, I wondered why we would be using such heavy rods and big reels to catch the tiny silvers. Because of the attractors, and the leaded line, feeling a fish fight was almost impossible.
I distinctly remember one time when I actually felt a fish bite.
“I think I have a fish,” I said to my grandma.
She looked at the tip of my fishing rod and seeing nothing shaking on the heavy fiberglass rod, she said, “no, I don’t think you do. Leave your line in the water.”
After we trolled around for what seemed like hours, but was probably only 20 minutes, I decided I was going to reel my line in just to see. Sure enough, there was a shiny, silver, water-logged little kokanee dragging along behind all the gear.
My grandma laughed and laughed and said, “You were right Robbie, you had a fish.”
I liked to fish, but even then I remember thinking that reeling in a small fish like that was not much fun.
In the years that followed, I would fish with my grandparents at Banks Lake for silvers, too. Those fish were at least twice the size of the fish at Rimrock, and the gear they used, while still over-sized, was more appropriate for the bigger kokanee.
All those memories came back to me the other day as I was talking with a friend who had run up to Rimrock for the day. He and his wife had caught their limits of silvers and enjoyed themselves fishing the big lake up near White Pass.
My friend told me the fish were typical Rimrock Lake silvers. He said they were all about eight to nine inches in length.
“We enjoyed two nice dinners of the Rimrock fish,” he said.
As anyone who has ever fished Rimrock knows, the kokanee in the reservoir on the Tieton River are traditionally on the small size. But rarely is there a year when the fish aren’t there, providing some fun fishing starting around Memorial Day and running throughout the summer.
The silvers will continue to grow as the adults get ready for their spawning run up one of the streams that feeds the lake. Rimrock now has a self-sustaining population of natural spawning kokanee.
By September, some of the silvers might even push 11 or 12 inches.
Today, many anglers still troll for the little land-locked sockeye salmon. And, the same gear my grandparents used in the 1960’s will work. If, however, you’d like to see, or feel the fish bite, and enjoy a bit of a fight, today’s lighter kokanee rods and reels are a good choice.
Trolling small kokanee spinners or Rimrock Specials tipped with a maggot or white shoepeg corn behind a very small dodger will work quite well.
Bank anglers and fishermen still-fishing from boats will rig a small whitefish fly tipped with a maggot and fish it fairly shallow below a bobber.
Chumming is legal in Rimrock so the anglers fishing bobbers will stir up a mixture of bran and salmon egg extract, and then they’ll add egg shells, corn and/or rock salt for a little sparkle. A big scoop full of the chum scattered around the boat occasionally does a nice job of attracting the kokanee.
Like my friend, many Rimrock kokanee anglers don’t let the size of the good-eating fish deter them. When the bite is on, it doesn’t take very long to catch a limit.
The kokanee fishing season is open year-round, but the best fishing occurs in the summer when the plankton bloom gets the fish concentrated and closer to the surface.
A public boat launch is located at the east end of Rimrock and there are pay-to-use launches, some with docks, at the resorts along the highway.
The kokanee fishing at Rimrock has been good. It’s a fun fishery, and a great place for kids to fish.
If you do take a kid, and he or she says they think they have a fish on, go ahead and let them reel their line in to check, there’s a good chance they’ve hooked a Rimrock silver.
• Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.