In Search Of The Largest Kokanee



The hunt for the largest Oncorhynchus nerka, or Kokanee Salmon, a landlocked freshwater variety of the Sockeye salmon, offers anglers around the world a unique opportunity to test their rod and line skills and mettle. Ron A. Campbell, a 69 year-old angler from Pendleton in Oregon, currently holds the International Game Fish Association’s All Tackle World Record for catching the largest officially-recognized kokanee.

On June 13, 2010, the then 61-year-old Campbell caught a 9-pound 10-ounce kokanee at Wallowa Lake. The fish was 27.75 inches (70.485 cm) in length and had a girth of 17.75 inches (45.085 cm). The previous world record was held by Canadian angler, Norm Kuhn, who landed a 9-pound 6-ounce kokanee in British Columbia’s Lake Okanagan in 1988, a record that stood for 22 years before Campbell busted it, bringing the world record title back to the United States.

For the last 8 years, anglers have flocked to both Lake Okanagan and Oregon’s Wallowa Lake in search of their own world record, but with just over 8 years in, Campbell’s record is still holding strong.



This stunningly beautiful silver-to-gray fish that turns a shade of red, green or yellow when spawning, based on gender and environmental factors, first drew attention in lakes of its native regions of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington in the United States, Canada’s British Columbia and Yukon regions, and Japan and Russia.

Wildlife organizations and others later introduced the kokanee to additional U.S. states and Canadian regions as its popularity grew, especially because its diet of zooplankton and insects makes it an excellent freshwater forage fish for other larger fish species. Unlike other ocean-going salmon, the kokanee normally only reaches a weight of 2 to 5 pounds (0.907 to 2.267 kg) and a length of 8 to 12 inches (20.32 to 30.48 cm) by the time it spawns after only typically four years of life.

The density of shrimp and other zooplankton and other environmental factors can increase its weight and size. In 2010, Campbell became the first angler since 1988 to catch a kokanee weighing more than 9 pounds (4.082 kg). In previous years, those on the hunt for a monster kokanee felt lucky to catch any that weighed 6 or 7 pounds (2.721 to 3.175 kg).



Ron Campbell’s story reveals the type of dedication and hard work it normally takes for an angler to find and catch a record-setting kokanee.

Wallowa Lake, a 4 1/2 mile long, glacier-formed lake located among forested hills and mountainous peaks at an elevation of above 4,300 feet, offers fishing enthusiasts a view of 8 1/2 miles of shoreline and a fishing depth of 298-feet. Campbell didn’t catch his kokanee by accident. He often took his boat out whenever possible during breaks from his fire investigating duties in the hope of finding a massive kokanee.

Since kokanee are fierce fighters when caught, sometimes referred to as “silver salmon on drugs”, and not typically attracted to normal large bait, Campbell chose his gear for the hunt carefully. On that Sunday, he used a Lamiglas Cascade Pro XT rod, Ambassadeur 4500C reel, 10-pound P-Line fishing line and a Shasta Tackle Pee Wee Hoochie lure.

The experienced angler knows that the best way to catch a kokanee is with a strong 10-pound or higher line to prevent snapped lines and a small, attractive bait or lure, such as a corn kernel, worm piece, larva, ale-egg lure, salmon egg or a lure that looks like a shrimp or insect. Campbell patiently dragged his lure for hours along the water using the trolling method until the first sign of activity.  When the fish bit, he then fought to bring the beauty onto his boat using every technique he knew.



After his IGFA recognition, Campbell received additional recognition from several fishing magazine publishers and tackle companies. One company, after hearing that Campbell didn’t have the right sized net that day for such a large fish, sent him a larger one. Shasta Tackle Company awarded Campbell the right to order any of their fishing gear for free for life.

Campbell also continues to receive requests for appearances to discuss kokanee fishing at Wallowa Lake, which is known to produce larger than normal kokanee. His feat has also set the bar in a growing sport. Eight years on, no one has beat Ron Campbell’s kokanee record, but his story inspires young and old anglers everywhere.

To catch your next “monster fish” consider the assistance of a local charter fisherman or reputable expert fishing guide.  Their experience in the waters you wish to fish can make the difference between bringing home a great catch, or just more “fish tales” to add to the list.  Happy fishing!