Wallowa Lake kokanee numbers on the rise

By Observer staff June 14, 2013 10:41 am

 WALLOWA LAKE — Wallowa Lake has gained a reputation in recent years for state- and world-record size kokanee.

But that reputation is slowly changing.

Now, instead of trophy-sized fish, anglers can expect an abundance of kokanee as the population at Wallowa Lake has increased from 70,000 in 2008 to more than 900,000 in 2012, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We’ve had a remarkable rebound in kokanee abundance, especially with younger fish less than 12 inches,” ODFW District Fish Biologist Jeff Yanke said in a press release. “Just a few years ago the lake was producing much larger fish, but overall the number of fish was much lower.”

With the dramatic increase in population numbers, the state has announced that the daily bag limit for kokanee is now 20 fish per day, not the 10 from previous years. There will continue to be no minimum size limit, but anglers will still be restricted to harvesting five fish longer than 12 inches.

For anglers visiting from out of the state, the possession limits remain at two daily limits.

“This rebound in the number of young fish is unprecedented for a kokanee fishery,” Yanke said.

Kokanee caught in Wallowa Lake broke the Oregon state record four times and a world record once from 2009 to 2010.

But according to Yanke, the presence of trophy fish isn’t necessarily a positive sign.

“In several lakes in Idaho and Canada, the catch of trophy-size kokanee was followed by major population crashes,” Yanke said. “Wallowa Lake appears to have bucked this trend for now, and is hopefully in the process of stabilizing.”

But despite smaller kokanee than what anglers have grown accustomed to, fishermen can now expect to leave the lake with a stringer full of fish.

“Angler expectations were certainly raised when so many record fish were caught in 2009-10,” Yanke said. 

“Even today, many anglers expect to catch huge kokanee when they come to Wallowa Lake. Wallowa Lake still has a great kokanee fishery. It’s just a little different from what it used to be.”

The increased bag limit has been established under a temporary rule that will remain in effect for six months, according to the ODFW. 

Fishery managers are proposing the rule become permanent starting in
January 2014.