See bright red Kokanee salmon in Utah this fall
DWR press release
Fall brings many beautiful colors to the Utah landscape, and driving to see the leaves change color is a popular activity for many locals. However, trees aren’t the only things that turn a vibrant red in the fall – kokanee salmon do, too.
In September and October, kokanee salmon – which have a silvery hue most of the year – turn bright red before moving up rivers and streams to spawn. Their red color makes fish easy to spot in the waters where they lay their eggs. Males also acquire hunchbacked backs, hooked jaws, and elongated teeth during their spawning transformation.
While the fish are exciting to see, note that you are not allowed to keep kokanee salmon caught anywhere in Utah from September 10 to November 30 during spawning season. Visitors should also not disturb spawning fish by wading in the water, allowing their dogs to chase fish, or attempting to scoop up fish.
To celebrate the annual spawning, the Utah Division of Wildlife is hosting two free viewing events at the following locations.
Sheep Creek (Daggett County)
This viewing event will take place on Saturday, September 11 from 9 am to 2 pm at the first bridge of the Sheep Creek Geological Loop, just off Highway 44. Sheep Creek, a tributary of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, is located at about six miles south of Manila, Utah.
Participants should watch for observable wildlife signs that will be posted along the route. You should be able to see the signs no matter which direction you are heading on Highway 44.
“We hope to see a very good number of kokanee in their bright red spawning colors,” said Tonya Kieffer-Selby, DWR Northeast Region Outreach Manager. “Bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, sandhill cranes, red-tailed hawks, songbirds, squirrels and a variety of other wildlife have greeted visitors in the past. We look forward to the migration of kokanis, as it is a great symbol of the changing seasons and an indication that fall is here.
DWR biologists will be available at the event to answer questions about salmon and their behavior. This is also a great time of year to enjoy the driving tour along the Sheep Creek Geological Loop as well as to stop at the Red Canyon Visitor Center.
Although the event is free, attendees are encouraged to register on Eventbrite. For more information, call the DWR Vernal office at (435) 781-9453.
Strawberry Reservoir (Wasatch County)
This event will take place on Saturday, September 18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the US Forest Service Visitor Center at Strawberry Reservoir. The Visitor Center is located along US Highway 40, approximately 20 miles southeast of Heber City. Although the Visitor Center is closed, the washrooms will be open during the event.
Participants will be able to see some salmon in the Strawberry River next to the Visitor Center. But, if you walk to the fish trap and egg-catching facility behind the visitor center, you will see hundreds of bright red fish. DWR biologists will be on hand to show you the salmon and tell you about the unique life cycle of the fish.
“The Kokanee are easily seen in the river at the visitor center,” said Scott Root, DWR Central Region Outreach Manager. “Once you get to the fish trap, you can ask questions about the salmon. If you want, you can even touch one.
If the Visitor Center parking lot fills up, overflow parking is available south of the Visitor Center.
Although the event is free, attendees are encouraged to register on Eventbrite. For more information about this free event, call the DWR office in Springville at (801) 491-5678.
If you can’t attend one of the DWR events, you can still see kokanee salmon spawn at these locations until the first week of October. Here are several other places around Utah where you can also see bright red kokanee:
Jordanelle Reservoir and Provo River (Summit County)
The kokanee that live in Jordanelle spawn in the Provo River above the Rock Cliff Recreation Area. The recreation area is located at the eastern tip of the reservoir, three kilometers west of Francis. The Rock Cliff area has several trails that lead to the riverside and a bridge that crosses the river where you can see salmon. Spawning usually takes place until September and peaks around the middle of the month.
NORTH OF UTAH
Causey Reservoir (Weber County)
You have to walk or paddle to see kokanee salmon at Causey Reservoir. You will find viewing opportunities at the left and right forks of the South Fork of the Ogden River, which connects to the reservoir. The left fork is not accessible by land – you must use a stand-up paddle board, kayak or canoe to get there. The right fork is accessible by land and requires about a 2.5 mile hike from the Skullcrack Canyon parking lot. The maximum spawning period is mid-September.
Porcupine Reservoir (Cache County)
Kokanee salmon move up the east fork of the Little Bear River, which is the main source of water for the Porcupine Reservoir. Parking is however very limited. If you are heading to the Porcupine Reservoir, please park in the small parking lot and avoid parking on the road if possible. Visiting on weekdays or planning your trips early or late in the day may be your best option for finding parking. Do not enter the Cinnamon Creek Campground lot, which is located just upstream and is marked with a “No Entry” sign and a locked gate. The maximum spawning period is mid-September.
Smith and Morehouse Reservoir (Summit County)
You should be able to see kokanee salmon as they run in Smith and Morehouse creeks or in Red Pine creek. The end of September to mid-October is usually the best time to see the fish.
Stateline Reservoir (Summit County)
This reservoir located on the north slope of the Uinta Mountains, about half a mile from the Utah-Wyoming border, offers excellent kokanee viewing opportunities. The fish are generally small, but very abundant here. The fish move up the east fork of Smith’s Fork, which feeds the north end of the reservoir. The maximum spawning period is mid-September.
SOUTHEAST OF UTAH
Electric Lake (Emery County)
At the north end of Electric Lake, the main tributary divides into Boulger Creek and Upper Huntington Creek. Salmon move up both streams from early September and the spawning season lasts until late October. However, the best viewing opportunities at Electric Lake are in the first half of October. Both streams are easily accessible from the landing stage at the north end of the lake, which leads to the boat launch. Upper Huntington Creek stretches several miles north along Highway 96. There are many small setbacks and the creek is very close to the road.
SOUTH OF UTAH
Fish Lake (Sevier County)
Kokanee has only been in Fish Lake, located about 40 miles southeast of Richfield, for a few years, but they have done very well. The best place to see them is at Twin Creeks. The new promenade offers a breathtaking view of the spawning fish. It can also be a great place to take photos or video clips of the fish as the water is crystal clear. Spawning usually takes place from mid-October to early November. A DWR viewing event will also take place at this time and details will be available as the event draws closer.
If you have the wonderful opportunity to see Kokanee this fall, use the hashtag #utahsalmon on social media to share your photos and videos with the DWR.