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It sounded fishy from the start but we bought it hook, line and sinker — Lessons learned while fishing Mackay reservoir

Living the Wild Life

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Photos: Bill Schiess | EastIdahoNews.com

“I heard fishermen are catching their limit of kokanee in half an hour to an hour and a half at Mackay,” a bearer of incorrect information told me. But hungry for kokanee and looking for some ice fishing action, my friend, Gary and I headed for the reservoir on Thursday morning.

Two fishing huts were already set up between the Joe T. Fallini docks and the dam and another one was up the reservoir about a half-mile away at the second boat ramp. We chose the wrong one at the wrong time. We joined the two huts just as they each landed a single kokanee. Three hours later, with only three bites between us, we headed north.

The two fishermen at the second boat ramp had maxed out on kokanee and had also caught four nice rainbows. We didn’t bother with the huts, as temperatures had risen from zero to almost 30 degrees, and the fish-finder indicated lots of fish. In the 26-foot water depth, there were fish constantly swimming within five feet of the bottom.

The fish were hitting very light and they were difficult to hook, but in an hour, we had eight kokanee between 10 to 12 inches on the ice before the fish moved on. A few singles and one more school came through, but after a token hit or two, they disappeared.

But on the sunny windless day, a rare occasion for Mackay Reservoir, we enjoyed the beauty surrounded by the White Knob Mountains on one side and Mount McCaleb on the other. Two other groups came out and each of them found the fishing slow as they each caught one. Once again, kokanee fishing is all about timing. You have to be there when they come through.

A wooden sign by the second boat ramp states that the kokanee limit on Mackay is six fish, but that is an old sign. The kokanee limit is actually 15, while the trout limit is six. This year, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has stocked Yellowstone cutthroats, rainbow trout, and just under 64,000 kokanee fingerlings.

We found that the kokanee were hitting both pink and chartreuse jigs, tipped with either pink-dyed corn or wax and mealworms. Most of the time they wanted the lures being jigged rather than just setting still.

I also made the mistake of being too greedy. Since it is legal to use five rods, I set up five rods close enough so I could jig each one when a school showed up. A large school of these high-octane fish came in and I had four fish on at the same time. Within five seconds, all four were tangled. I did notice any of them, and it took me about 45 minutes to get the lines untangled while Gary continued fishing, and probably laughing.

As some clouds started rolling in and a slight breeze came up, the temperature started dropping. With no fish showing up, it was time for the two-hour trip home. Gary and I discussed how gullible fishermen are to hot reports. A day after hearing of “limits caught in half-an-hour,” we were fishing, not thinking that landing 15 fish in 30 minutes is near impossible unless you are catching four at a time.

The trip was worth it because the weather and company were very good, but as a friend tells me all the time, finding kokanee is hard “as they are just as likely to be where they is as where they isn’t.”

Happy fishing to all of you as we wait for Ririe Reservoir to freeze over, and we wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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