View Full Version : Blue Mesa Kokanee

05-05-2017, 07:07 PM
Launch ramps and mussel inspection stations are open on Blue Mesa, as are the two marinas. The water in Cebolla, the middle basin, is 45 degree F and the water is green stained. Given a good snowpack, the lake has risen earlier than normal and is about 15 ft below the typical high water level. It appears that managers have recently increased outflows to match inflows. Kokanee fishing is decent, with some people reporting limits (5 fish bag limit, 10 fish possession), although the fish seem to be noticeably smaller this year. The typical mature fish that will spawn in the fall is running about 14 inches and weighs about 1.15 pound. Perhaps it is still early and fish need time to grow. The early, pre-dawn, morning bite has been good lately, with some slow down after 7:30 or so. The usual colors are producing: yellows, pinks, oranges, reds and purples, trailing 4 inch dodgers. Fish are still shallow: lead core out 2 -3 colors with long leaders and downriggers running 15 - 23 ft with long set backs. Predawn air temps have been 23F - 33F and there is still a little snow on north facing slopes. Good Luck.

05-16-2017, 03:23 PM
Fishing on Blue Mesa continues to be good, particularly between 6 and 7 am. Air temp at 5:30 am is 37 F and water temp in Cebolla is 55 F, with more green staining than before and more floating branches, etc. Fish are taking yellow and orange beads w/ spinners trailing same color dodgers on both downriggers and lead core; 17 - 19 ft deep on DR with 30 ft drop and 3 colors on leadcore. Best trolling speeds are 1.1 - 1.4 MPH. On Mother's Day many fishermen, including guides, were fishing East, just beyond the Elk Creek Marina, an area known as Turtle Rock, and west of the marina, beyond the canyon around Bay of Chickens. The fish are growing and getting fatter. The recent fish-of-the-day was a male, at 1 lb, 11 oz and a little over 16". Female are running 1.5 lbs and 14 - 15 inches. We've been picking up smaller random browns and rainbow, and 2 - 3 lb lake trout at 27 - 35 ft are readily taking yellow and green salmon lures. A fair number of the salmon show signs of escaping large macs. The lake has been rising 1/2 to 3/4 ft per day recently. Good Luck. We're off to Lake Powell for weather that feels more like summer.

05-16-2017, 08:46 PM
Thanks for the report on BM. I was there last Friday, the weather was great and there was no wind. We fished west of Cebolla on the South side and did OK in shallow water with pink and purple squids. Hope to make down there again soon.

05-17-2017, 12:16 AM
Glad you had a good day on BM. Interesting that you did well on different colors. I think the kokes are taking any and everything right now. We also were out on Friday and you might have gone past us as we were fishing the bay of chicken area, just as the canyon opens into Cebolla basin. MJ and I fish a 21 ft North River (with no decals, so its somewhat hard to spot). I think we were putting the boat back in the slip a little after 7 am that day, so if you were late getting started our paths didn't cross. Drive by and say hello next time you are on the lake.

05-17-2017, 12:51 AM
The pink worked better than the purple. I kept catching rainbows on the purple. We put in about 6:30 and started in the Bay of Chickens so we probably did cross. I have a 16.5' Alumacraft

06-06-2017, 08:38 PM
Any more news from BM. Thinking of maybe taking a week trip from Co Springs to get a few kokes maybe a laker or 2.

06-07-2017, 02:55 PM

Blue Mesa Fishing has been good but seems to be cooling down in the Iola basin as it heats up in the Cebolla basin. Water temp in Iola this AM was 60F and air temp at the West Elk Marina at 5 am was 47F.

Water authorities have dropped the lake about 15 ft in the past two weeks. The explanation I heard from the dock hands at the marina is that LOTS of water is still expected and they wanted to have reserve capacity just in case. Perhaps the events in CA scared dam managers. The lake is now going up again (moderately) and will continue to do so until, I was told, about the 10 - 12 of June, when they will start adding as much as 2 ft per day. The Gunnison River is running VERY HIGH at the bridge just west of town.

The water mid basin in Iola has been very heavily stained for the last week or so and fishing was generally good a week ago. The past few days have seen enormous amounts of large and small debris, including tree trunks 12" - 14" in diameter and many large limbs, in the middle of Iola. Fish finders now show lots of clutter down to 40 ft. Fishing has cooled off and fish were shallower, in the 14ft - 16ft range on downriggers. Orange has been the best color by far, with yellow and purple doing OK. We haven't done well on pinks this summer but I hear others have. We caught several nice kokes today, the largest weighing in at 1 lb 12 oz and two fillets from this size of fish weigh in about 3/4 lb, but we gave up when fishing slowed soon after dawn. I was told by a reliable friend that fishing was better this AM in Cebolla at 20 - 24ft on downriggers. Our next trip we will try Cebolla as Iola is getting too stained and too clogged w/ debris.

We've been catching plenty of small browns and a few 1 1/4 lb rainbows, which we release. Have caught and dispatched a few small Macs recently but they don't seem as interested in koke lures as before. Earlier in the season many of this-fall-spawner kokes we caught showed signs of attempted predation -- large tooth shaped scared down the sides and even healing puncture wounds on the stomachs. We see less of that now but you'll have my eternal thanks if you reduce the mac population.

We may fish this weekend but have to be out of town from Monday on. Hope you have a good trip.


06-07-2017, 08:22 PM
I am going to try to make it down there on Friday morning. Have to leave Grand Junction at 3:00 AM to get there by 5:30. I will try Cebolla. Am anxious to try my new rod out. I think I have a few orange hoochies so will start out with them. Thanks for the detailed info, it is appreciated. Jim

06-08-2017, 11:20 PM

Safe travels on your trip from GJ. Full moon tonight and we've been seeing lots of deer on the roads lately between Montrose and BM.

We may be out on Friday morning if some guests are able to make it work, so we may see you.



06-09-2017, 01:09 PM
Thinking, maybe the week before 06/23. I need to get some smoking kokes stocked up 2 limits in poison right? On kokes. Just like to catch the lakers they pull like John Deer.laugh hyst
Thanks for the report.

06-23-2017, 01:23 PM
Kokanee fishing remains very good on Blue Mesa.

Blue Mesa is within about 5 ft of the likely high water mark for the summer (this is about 5 ft lower than "full pool", which seems to cause problems). There is an enormous amount of large debris near the Lake City bridge and the water is stained from continuing high runoff. The Cebolla channel has lots of sticks and stems that we don't need. Air temp this morning was 54F and water temp in Cebolla was 63F.

Fishing was best from 5:30 - 6:00 am, with a bite every 3 - 4 minutes on average. From 6:00 to 7:00 the average was a bite every 10 - 15 minutes or so. Best color for us was orange, Orange and ORANGE at downrigger depths of 23 and 27 ft. Purple also produced. Fish are fat and scrappy fighters, running 1.5 lb to 1.75 lb, with the occasional 1 7/8 pound fish. Two fillets have a combined weight of 0.75 to 0.85 pounds.

There is a fishing fleet in every basin but part of the Iola fleet seems to have moved to the bay of Chickens in the Cebolla Basin in the past few days. This is a good time to fishing Blue Mesa.

Kokanee 64

08-06-2017, 11:34 AM
I was there is mid-July and fished in the Cebolla basin. We caught our limit on pink billed hoochies trolling from 20 to 35 ft. Planning to head down on Aug 8 to try our luck again. I would like to try jigging for them if I can locate a school. Any advice for jigging this time of year? Jim

08-10-2017, 06:36 AM

Vertical jigging over salmon schools started about a week ago, limited for now to the Iron Works area of Cebolla basin. When it is hot, it is hot.

Tips, you asked? Where to begin. This is going to be more than you asked for. There are so many things that can go wrong and everything has to be right for jigging to work well. Other than the guides, only 2 or 3 of the 25 boats I saw jigging today can do what I call Drive by Fishing; drive around to hunt down a school of salmon, stop dead plumb over the school, drop a line and reel in a fish. Here are some tips.

Make sure your fish finder points straight down and that you can see a 1.5 ounce jib bouncing up and down under your boat at the 80 foot mark. If you're not looking straight down, you can't know when you are directly over the school. You may need to turn up sensitivity to see your jig bouncing but most likely if you can't see the jig, the transducer is aimed badly. This can be fussy getting it right. It may help to zoom in so you can watch just the 70 - 90 foot zone, using the tip that follows to put your jig at 80 feet under the boat, where it should be easy for the sonar to detect.

I use Power Pro braided line on 10-12 lb spinning tackle because it is very sensitive to bumps -- 20 pounds test tied to a large snap swivel. I no longer use mono leader because (1) mono takes a beating during jigging and breaks too often, and (2) when all the nets are in use we sometimes have to "crane" fish into the boat. Braided line is tough. I measure the line on the patio and cut it at 80 feet from the snap swivel. I tie in 2 feet of 20 lb yellow power pro. Now when the jig has fallen to almost 80 feet deep I will feel knots run over the line guides on the rod and I close the bail when the yellow line hits the water. Schooled salmon at Blue Mesa are ALWAYS 80 feet deep, plus or minus 5 - 10 feet. I see other people's jigs on my fish finder all the time while we are fishing, and most of the time they aren't even close to 80 feet. If you are using a line counter reel you'll have to pull out line, measure it with a tape measure, and figure out what counter number is equal to 80 feet. Unless you have nearly identical amounts of line on each of the line counter reels, you have to measure each one separately. Once your sonar is tuned correctly you can use it to calibrate line counter reels at 80 feet. I've had temporary success using a sharpie marker on braided line and I've also seen people poke dental floss through the braided line at the 80 ft mark.

The most common lures are 1.5 oz Lure Jensen Crippled Herring, pearl white (glow) with a green stripe on the back. But anything at 1 ounce or greater should work. I replace the package hooks with size 6 very sharp EWG treble hooks. Most people use corn on hooks -- white shoe peg, of course. Some people use scents, etc. Lots of people use lights. It is dark at 80 feet. Since salmon sieve plankton and such, we aren't offering them lunch; we are trying to irritate them so they will strike out at our jig, which they probably can't see too well. Lots of people use sword fish lights (C&H Lures) after they appeared in a Cabelas salt water catalog 10 or so years ago and Gene Taylor's in Gunnison carries them. I use a 12 inch Power Pro leader between my lure and my light.

Bites are often very subtle. I drop to 80 ft and hold dead stick. After 20 - 30 seconds you may feel "bumps" or nibbles like a fish is trying to steal your corn. After 30 seconds or so I occasionally gently lift the lure an inch or two using just a twitch of my hand. Any resistance is a salmon and I keep lifting, pulling really hard to set the hook. Start reeling and set the hook again. When the fishing is slow I sometimes slowly lift the lure 6 - 8 feet and the let the lure drop. I try to follow the lure down with my rod tip, keeping the line a little bit tight but trying not to impede the fall of the lure. If the line goes slack or you don't feel the lure dropping, a fish has taken the lure. Often the fish take the jig on the drop and we detect them on the lift. We get foul hooked fish, which must be released immediately. (Officers exam fish for signs of being foul hooked, so we when we legally catch a fish that shows wounds from being previously foul hooked and released, we let it go again.)

I use a 14 year old, 5 inch Lowarance LMS 339, dual frequency sonar. Because it has the two "just right" frequencies and cone angles, it works very well for hunting salmon schools. I show the two frequencies side by side, with the upper and lower depth limits set to 60 and 100 feet (focus on where the salmon will be) and the sensitivity turned up somewhat. The 50 kHz transducer covers a circle about 70 feet in diameter at 80 feet deep while the other transducer has a very narrow cone with a 9 ft diameter circle at 80 feet. I use the wide cone to locate a school and the narrow cone to position directly above the school. I see lots of boats fishing over empty water. You have to put the jig in the fish's face, so you have to be directly over the school or it won't work at all.

My advice is to check out your sonar manual and figure out how to best use the capabilities you have. Some of the guides at BM have the latest sonar and I believe some of the newer technology gives them images that help them find and stay on schools of salmon. They are certainly better than me at finding and positioning on fish. With luck, you'll have the capabilities you need. Many single frequency units are either very wide (great for hunting, poor for final positioning) or very narrow (great for final positioning but ineffective for hunting).

Most of the boats in the fleet today didn't use their sonars, they pulled up on a boat that was already catching fish, or maybe up to a boat that was near another boat that had caught a fish. Boats very near the guide boat probably caught an occasional fish but most of the catch was on the guide boat. Salmon schools move around some, so any boat in the scrum might occasionally catch a fish, but it is the boats parked directly over the school that will be most successful.

Hope this helps.


08-11-2017, 12:23 AM
Roger, thanks, that helps a lot. I will have to do a few things different and try it out. I was using a 3/4 ounce PK panic jointed spoon but wasn't watching the sonar well enough to assure that we were right on top of the school. I was using a line-counter reel that I calibrated in my drive so I should have been very close to 80 ft. Jim

08-25-2017, 07:26 PM
Although fish are schooled up at 80 ft deep trolling through the schools is not very productive but jigging can work very well. Please see my previous post above for some info about jigging techniques. The photos below show what the schools look like on my 14 year old sonar unit. This is the hunt, or "drive by" part of jigging. The Lowrance LMS 339 has dual frequencies, with the wide cone (about 40 ft diameter coverage at 80 ft deep) on the left and the narrow cone (about 15 ft diameter coverage at 80 ft deep) on the right. In the first photo the school is in the wide cone, so it is close by, but is just starting to show on the narrow cone, meaning the school is now directly below the boat. In the second photo we are right on top of the school -- we know this because the school shows clearly on the right side of the split screen. Please note the photos are from different days and the upper and bottom range selection varies a little.

In the third photo we see what the screens look like after sitting right on top of the fish for some time as the screen continues to scroll. In the fourth photo we are beginning to drift off the school or the school is moving from under us. The fish are near by (we are still marking them on the wide cone, but not on the narrow cone looking straight down). The horizontal line on the right side of the split screen is my lure deadsticked. In the last photo we are well off the school but I jigged my lure up and down, showing the transducer is pointed straight down so my lure is still under the boat but the fish are not.






With this old technology, when we see fish on the left side of the screen (wide cone) but not the right side (narrow cone), we don't know if the fish are straight ahead, to the left, or to the right. If the fish are directly below the boat, they will be shown at about 90 feet deep, but if they are off to the side, say 20 feet to the left of the boat, the distance from the transducer to the school will be more than 90 feet. As we move closer to the school, the school appears to get shallower. As we move away from the school, they appear to get deeper. So I try first to get close to the school using the wide cone. As I continue moving slowly, if the fish appear to be getting shallower, I keep moving slowly forward. If the fish appear to getting deeper, I turn the other way. The fish won't come to your lure, so you have to get directly on top of them and gently wiggle the lure in their faces. Today we caught 3 fish while a rod was deadsticked. I put my rod in a holder while netting a fish and watched the tip jump up and down while netting. When I return to my rod, I always set the hook.

The schools are not large, often only 10 ft or so in diameter. So even though the school shows on the narrow cone on the right, there may not be fish below the bow of the boat or the fish may be only on one side or the other. Staying on top of the fish is difficult with wind and, of course, those tricky fish move around some. Even with pretty decent skill, this requires patience, persistence and luck.

Hope this helps those who are thinking about a fish hunting trip to Blue Mesa. I expect jigging to continue for 2 - 3 more weeks.

Kokanee 64

08-31-2017, 03:59 PM
Blue Mesa salmon were probably at their peak a few weeks back. Fish have lost some mass and fat, with the average size dropping a couple of ounces lately, the males' stomachs are shrinking some and eggs are huge; now is a good time for making caviar. A few fish are beginning to lose their orange flesh color near the tail but most fish are still in good condition -- those we ate last night for dinner were excellent. The largest female weighed in at 2 lb, 2 oz, and the larger fish ran about 1.75 -- 2.0 pounds.

Jigging remains good and it appears that most experienced jiggers are catching limits quickly most mornings near the Iron Works. Today we found four large schools, leaving the first three after catching a few fish at each and as other boats began to surround us, which makes the fishing experience less fun for us. With most of the fleet continuing to fish the schools we abandoned, we were able to finish up by ourselves on the fourth school. When we pulled away we ran over three additional schools that rivaled the first four in size -- there are schools everywhere in the Iron Works area for fishermen who are willing to spend 10 minutes looking for them. Holiday fishing should be red hot for jiggers on Blue Mesa.


Good Luck.


09-08-2017, 03:56 PM
Jigging around the Iron Works remains hot and the fish are still very good eating quality, although they continue to get bigger hooks and darker backs. There were about 20 boats in the area this morning (Friday) and most seemed to have little trouble finding schools. We caught fish from 75 ft to 95 ft, with most between 85 and 90. We are tipping hooks with corn but not using lights.

I'd guess there are still a couple of weeks of very good fishing coming up, including numbers, catch rate and eating quality.

Good luck on Blue Mesa.


09-13-2017, 09:44 PM
Jigging on Blue Mesa has been hot but today (9/13) there were fewer schools and fewer boats. Even so, four of us jigged up 20 4 year olds in about 2 hours. Fish quality remains excellent. While the number of schools may shrink, there are still lots of salmon around the Iron Works and experienced jiggers shouldn't have trouble finding large schools to fish for the next couple of weeks.

09-15-2017, 12:18 AM
Although jigging for kokanees continues to be productive and fish quality is still excellent, we decided to call it quits on Blue Mesa, get the boat and equipment ready for fall fishing on Lk Powell, and take care of a few other projects. Morning temperatures are in the mid to high 30's now and there is a noticeable touch of fall in the air, but the water temp is still 68F. Elk Creek Marina closes the end of Sept. Sport Fish Colorado (Robby Richardson) and Gene Taylor Sporting Goods (Andy Cochran) are highly recommended for those who want a guided fishing trip to close the season on a high note.

The guides and locals all agree this was by far the best season in the past 10 years and perhaps marks a recovery from the near kokanee collapse caused by lake trout predation. Since we saw quite a few fish this spring with scars and open wounds from recent predation, it is probably too soon to say all the problems are behind us; but it sure was fun this summer.

I expect to begin posting about kokanee fishing on Blue Mesa early next May once the ice is out and spring fishing on Lake Powell ends for us with the onset of heat and summer crowds. If you have specific questions about fishing Blue Mesa, local accommodations or just want to know how the lake is doing before committing to travel plans, let me know and I'll help all I can (though I probably won't be checking the forum for the next couple of weeks).

I expect jigging to continue through the end of September and into October, albeit with a gradual decline in the number of schools and fish. Search for schools from the shore at the Iron Works and west out to the center of the lake but keep in mind that schools can be located anywhere along the northern shore of the Cebolla basin. For the past few years I've found "the last school" on the 120 ft deep triangle located on the south-east corner where the Cebolla channel and the Gunnison channel join. For a diversion, consider harassing brown trout with a fly rod in the shallows up Cebolla Creek and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison.

Good fishing to all. Kokanee64 -- already dreaming of fishing for kokanee on Blue Mesa in 2018.

09-16-2017, 09:27 PM
Thank you for all of your reports on Blue Mesa this past summer. It is still on my bucket list of lakes to fish for Kokes.

09-17-2017, 02:27 AM
Great reads. Thanks for the reports!