Where to see vibrant kokanee salmon in Utah this fall

UTAH — The changing leaves aren’t the only autumn colors to see in Utah this year.

Kokanee salmon, which are silver most of the year, change to an eye-catching shade of red during the fall before traveling up rivers and streams to spawn.

Male kokanees also get humped backs, hooked jaws and elongated teeth during the spawning season.

The DWR will hold two free kokanee viewing events this fall. The first will be held Saturday, September 16 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the U.S. Forest Service visitor center at Strawberry Reservoir. The visitor center will be closed, but restrooms will be open during this event.

DWR biologists will be at the fish trap and egg-taking facility behind the visitor center to discuss the life cycle of the kokanee salmon and answer any questions. This event is free, but attendees are encourages to register in advance on Eventbrite.

“Kokanee are easily visible in the river at the visitor center,” said Scott Root, DWR Central Region outreach manager. “Once you arrive at the fish trap, you can ask questions about the salmon and see them up close.”

A second event will be held on Saturday, September 30 from 8 a.m. to noon at the Fish Lake Lodge on the west shore of Fish Lake. The viewing event will be held at the boardwalk near the lodge, and participants will be able to see the fish swimming up Twin Creeks, a tributary to Fish Lake. Participants can register for this free event here.

“Kokanee have only been in Fish Lake for a few years, but they have done really well,” said Adam Kavalunas, Southern Region outreach manager. “The boardwalk provides a great view of the spawning fish. This can be a great location to take pictures or video clips of kokanee because the water is crystal clear in this area.”

According to a press release from the DWR, kokanee salmon will also spawn in these locations until early October:

  • Jordanelle Reservoir: “the kokanee in Jordanelle Reservoir spawn in the Provo River, above the Rock Cliff recreation area. The recreation area is located on the eastern tip of the reservoir, 2 miles west of Francis. The Rock Cliff area has several trails that lead to the river’s edge and a bridge that crosses the river where you can view the salmon. Spawning usually runs through the month of September and peaks about the middle of the month.”
  • Causey Reservoir: “you must hike or paddle to see kokanee salmon at Causey Reservoir. You’ll find viewing opportunities at the left-hand and right-hand forks of the South Fork of the Ogden River, which connects to the reservoir. The left-hand fork is not accessible over land — you must use a stand-up paddleboard, kayak or canoe to get there. The right-hand fork can be accessed by land and requires about a 2.5-mile hike in from the Skullcrack Canyon parking area. Peak spawning time is the middle of September.”
  • Smith and Morehouse Reservoir: “you should be able to see some kokanee salmon as they swim up either Smith and Morehouse Creek or Red Pine Creek. Late September to mid-October is usually the best time to see the fish.”
  • Stateline Reservoir: “this reservoir on the north slope of the Uinta Mountains — about a half-mile from the Utah-Wyoming state line — offers great kokanee-viewing opportunities. The fish are typically small, but very abundant at this location. Fish run up the east fork of Smith’s Fork, which feeds into the north end of the reservoir. Peak spawning time is the middle of September.
  • Electric Lake: “at the north end of Electric Lake, the main tributary splits into Boulger Creek and Upper Huntington Creek. Salmon run up both creeks starting in early September, and the spawning season lasts until the end of October. However, the best viewing opportunities at Electric Lake are typically during the first half of October. Both creeks are typically accessible from the pulloff on the north end of the lake, which runs to the boat ramp. Upper Huntington Creek runs several miles north, right along Highway 96. There are many small pull-off areas, and the creek is very close to the road. However, visitors should note that high water levels this year may change where the spawn occurs compared to past years.”
  • Sheep Creek: “flaming Gorge is home to northeastern Utah’s largest kokanee population. Typically, the best place to view the spawning fish is from the Highway 44 bridge over Sheep Creek or the educational trail along the creek. If you see the DWR fish trap in the river, please leave it alone. It is installed throughout the kokanee run and used to collect eggs and milt (sperm) from some of the spawning fish.”

While these salmon may be interesting to look at, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), fishers are not allowed to keep any kokanee salmon caught in Utah between September 10 and November 30, the fish’s spawning season.

Visitors should also avoid disturbing the spawning fish during this time by wading into the water, trying to touch or pick up the fish, or allowing their dogs to chase the fish. Violators could be cited.

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