By RALPH BARTHOLDT
Robbie Curtis was live Wednesday morning in his 16-foot aluminum fish machine scooping kokanee from Lake Coeur d’Alene and posting his catch on Facebook.
He started before the sun pitched over Coeur d’Alene Mountain, spilling warmth across Wolf Lodge and Bennett bays.
Before 9 a.m., he had caught the 15 kokanee allowed per angler using orange, pink and green hoochies and dodgers.
“Those are kind of the primary colors,” Curtis said.
Curtis cut a glassine surface pulling his hoochies — using downriggers — in depths of 30 to 50 feet, he said, depending on where the kokanee were.
“I watch them on the fish finder, and go up and down with the fish,” he said. “If you fish between 30 and 50, you’re going to get fish.”
And he watched as more boats gradually slipped onto the water and puttered in slow motion on the northern part of the lake, barely leaving a trace under a sky that began to paint itself blue.
A few hours later around 25 boats plied a lane between Higgens Point and Bennett Bay, he said.
“It was pretty, but my cellphone camera didn’t do it justice,” he said.
A few days earlier, Brandon Collier and Lorey Chilbeck fished Lake Coeur d’Alene Sunday morning, pulling in their lines before filling their live well with a kokanee limit — and it wasn’t even 10 o’clock, Collier said.
“We were six fish shy,” said Collier of Deer Park, Wash. “It’s a pretty easy fishery.”
The duo launched at Higgens Point and fished east in about 45 feet of water trolling Gulls Custom Mighty Minnows behind dodgers, and picking up kokanee along the way.
“We don’t go too far from the boat launch,” he said.
They fished their way into Blue Creek Bay, catching 12-inch bluebacks from the mouth, under the bridge and into the bay on the north side of Interstate 90.
“We caught them right under the bridge,” he said. “It was weird catching fish right there in front.”
Collier said he usually tips his hooks with white corn or fake maggots. Most of the fish the couple caught were around 12 inches long, but a few ranged around 13 inches.
“That’s a pretty good size for a kokanee,” he said.
Curtis, of Rathdrum, grew up fishing during the summers he spent at the cabin his grandfather built in the 1950s in Neachen Bay — it was called Squaw Bay until 2007 — east of Arrow Point.
“We have a long kokanee fishing history in our family,” he said.
He has watched populations cycle over the years and relates fish size to populations.
Over the past couple weeks, he has caught fish in the 12-inch to 16-inch range, he said, which means the kokanee population is down because fewer fish usually means there is more food available. Less competition for food allows kokanee to grow larger than average by late autumn when they spawn and die, he said.
“I have caught some up to 16 inches,” he said. “That’s the extreme limit.”
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game posted notices to alert anglers this week that the department planted 20,000 immature chinook ranging in size from 6 to 7 inches in Wolf Lodge Creek. The fish are also silver, similar to kokanee, and yearlings can range around 16 inches and may be mistaken for bluebacks.
Chinook differ in that they have black mouths and have spots on their upper back and on their entire tail.
“Chinook are more stocky,” Curtis said. “They are really thick fish.”
Despite what seems to be pretty good kokanee fishing right now, Curtis expects it to get better over the next week.
It’s a moon thing, he said.
“When the full moon starts to go away, in my opinion, the bite always gets better,” he said.
By 10 a.m. Curtis had switched tactics and was looking for mature chinook. He planned to fish another hour.
“Until Golden Corral opens,” he said.
Because that means lunch time.