A Mills River man has broken the state record for kokanee salmon. Jeff Smith’s 4-pound, 1-ounce fish, caught from Nantahala Lake on June 11, was verified by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and certified this past Friday.
Smith caught the fish while trolling. He took it fish to an Ingles supermarket in Bryson City and had it weighed there on certified scales. Jacob Rash, a biologist who is the coldwater research coordinator for the Commission, verified the scales and fish for it to become official.
“It was just a lot of fun,” Smith said. “They’re a really difficult fish to catch, but they are beautiful, and they’re really good to eat.”
Kokanee are a type of sockeye salmon that are totally landlocked and do not swim in from the ocean to spawn like other salmon. North Carolina’s only kokanee were stocked in Nantahala Lake in the 1960’s by the Commission.
“About 2 ½ years ago I found out that there were salmon in this lake,” Smith said. “I did some research and got in touch with a company out west, Rocky Mountain Tackle Company, and a guy named Jarod Johnson. He got me on some techniques and some lures, told me what to use and how to use it.”
After some initial success Smith got serious and began researching the fish, previous records and techniques needed to catch a trophy. He said the salmon stay well down in the water column, and downriggers are needed to reach them.
“I run two rods,” Smith said. “I run a bottom rod and then I run a stacker above that. I run flashers and dodgers as attractors and little, tiny flies and stuff.… I’m using microscopic No. 18 and No. 16 flies behind a 12-pound downrigger ball.”
Even then, Smith said, it’s tough to connect with these unusual fish.
“They’ve got no teeth, so it’s really hard to get hooks in their mouth and get them to stick,” Smith said.
Smith caught the kokanee on a day-off from work – his first birthday off in the last ten years. His fish was the second to break the state-record for Kokanee salmon in less than a week. Fred Mix of Rainbow Springs had caught a 3-pound, 15-ounce fish on June 6. Before that, the record had been a 3-pound, 9-ounce fish caught in 2009 by Ashley Swann.
“We got within 3 ounces of the record twice last year. We actually probably ate the state record the first trip,” Smith said. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing, and it happened on my birthday which was even better. It was a great birthday present.”