See Utah’s Stunningly Beautiful Kokanee Salmon
Article by Grant Olsen
Vibrantly colored salmon crowding into streams and leaping up waterfalls may sound out of place in an arid climate, but kokanee salmon are well established in Utah. Kokanee are landlocked relatives of the sockeye salmon of the Pacific Coast, and they are just as exciting to catch as their saltwater kin. They’ve been stocked in several Utah waters, including Causey Reservoir, Porcupine Reservoir, Moon Lake and Strawberry Reservoir, which currently boasts the state record, a 6-pounder, caught in 1995.
Utah’s most popular kokanee fishing destination is Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Known over the years as a trophy trout fishery, the 91-mile long reservoir has produced state records for lake trout (51 pounds), brown trout (33 pounds) and rainbow trout (26 pounds). With 40,000 surface acres, it offers the salmon plenty of room to grow and many anglers feel that it’s only a matter of time before the Gorge produces the next state record.
This year’s spawning class of salmon is sporting the hooked jaws, humped backs and red coloration that make them famous in Alaska. The kokanee spawn usually runs from late August to late September, and on one of the Saturdays in mid-September, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will hold its annual Kokanee Salmon Day at Flaming Gorge. The free event takes place six miles south of Manila at the salmon viewing site where Sheep Creek passes under Route 44. It’s a fascinating opportunity to watch the colorful fish return to the stream where they were born.
Unlike saltwater salmon, which hunt fish, shrimp and other aquatic creatures, kokanee feed exclusively on zooplankton. This has two impacts on Utah anglers. First, it means that when a kokanee strikes a fishing lure, it’s out of aggression and not seeking a meal. Also, it gives the meat a pleasantly sweet taste.
While recent years have brought increased fishing pressure on the kokanee at Flaming Gorge, the future is bright for the species. Most anglers have been careful to release them during the spawn, ensuring the kokanee are given safe passage while spawning and paving the way for future years.
Kokanee Spawn Flaming Gorge:
The town of Manila is located in northeastern Utah, about 170 miles from Salt Lake City. The Flaming Gorge area offers plenty to do. Starting December 1, the spawn will be completely over and you can begin fishing for kokanee again.
Kokanee Spawn Strawberry:
If you would like to attend the Kokanee Salmon Day at Strawberry, it’s held in mid-September at the U.S. Forest Service visitor. The visitor center is along U.S. Highway 40, about 20 miles southeast of Heber City. UDWR biologists will be on hand to answer questions, and display materials will be available that will help you see the kokanee and interpret their behavior.
If you are searching for a fun family outdoor activity, the two locations above, provide your family the opportunity to see Utah’s beautiful red kokonee salmon as they migrate up Sheep Creek, and the Strawberry River.
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