SALT LAKE CITY — Autumn brings a lot of beautiful colors to Utah’s 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 brilliant shade of red in the fall — kokanee salmon do as well.
In September and October, kokanee salmon — which are a shade of silver most of the year — change to a bright red before they travel up rivers and streams to spawn. Their red color makes the fish easy to spot in the waters where they lay their eggs. The males also acquire humped 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 any kokanee salmon caught anywhere in Utah from Sept. 10 to Nov. 30, during the spawning season. Visitors should also not disturb the spawning fish by wading into the water, trying to pick the fish up or allowing their dogs to chase the fish.
To celebrate the annual spawn, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is holding two free viewing events at the following locations.
Sheep Creek (Daggett County)
This viewing event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the first bridge in the Sheep Creek Geological Loop, just off Highway 44. Sheep Creek, a tributary to Flaming Gorge Reservoir, is located about 6 miles south of Manila, Utah.
Participants should watch for the event signs that will be posted along the highway.
“We’re hoping to see really good numbers of kokanee in their bright red, spawning colors at the event,” DWR Northeastern Region Outreach Manager Tonya Kieffer-Selby said. “Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, sandhill cranes, red-tailed hawks, songbirds, squirrels and a variety of other wildlife have also been spotted during this event in the past. We look forward to the kokanee migration, as it’s a great symbol of the changing seasons and an indication that autumn is here.”
DWR biologists will be available at the event to answer questions about the salmon and their behavior. It’s also a great time of year to enjoy the auto tour along the Sheep Creek Geological Loop, as well as stop by the Red Canyon Visitor Center.
Strawberry Reservoir (Wasatch County)
This viewing event will also be held Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the U.S. Forest Service visitor center at Strawberry Reservoir. The visitor center is located along U.S. Highway 40, about 20 miles southeast of Heber City. Though the visitor center will be closed, the restrooms will be open during the event.
Participants will be able to see a few salmon in the Strawberry River next to the visitor center. But, if you walk to the fish trap and egg-taking facility behind the visitor center, you’ll see hundreds of the bright red fish. DWR biologists will be at the facility to show you the salmon and talk with you about the peculiar life cycle of the fish.
“Kokanee are easily visible in the river at the visitor center,” DWR Central Region Outreach Manager Scott Root said. “Once you arrive at 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. A food truck will also be available at the event.
While the event is free, participants are asked to register for it in advance on Eventbrite. For more information about the event, call the DWR’s Springville office at 801-491-5678. You will also be able to watch a livestream of the kokanee salmon at the fish trap on the DWR YouTube channel later this month.
If you are unable to attend one of the DWR events, you can still see kokanee salmon spawning at those locations until early October. Here are several other spots around Utah where you can see bright red kokanee as well:
Jordanelle Reservoir and Provo River (Summit County)
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 (Weber County)
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.
Porcupine Reservoir (Cache County)
Kokanee salmon run up the east fork of the Little Bear River, which is the main source of water for Porcupine Reservoir. Parking is very limited, though. If you head to Porcupine Reservoir, please park in the small parking lot and avoid parking on the road, if possible. Visiting on weekdays or timing your trips for early or late in the day may be your best option for finding parking. Do not trespass on Cinnamon Creek Campground’s land, which is located just upstream, and is marked with a “no trespassing” sign and locked gate. Peak spawning time is the middle of September.
Smith and Morehouse Reservoir (Summit County)
You should be able to see some kokanee salmon during their run in either Smith and Morehouse Creek or in Red Pine Creek. Late September to mid-October is usually the best time to see the fish.
Stateline Reservoir (Summit County)
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 (Emery County)
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 in the first half of October. Both creeks are highly 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.
Fish Lake (Sevier County)
Kokanee have only been in Fish Lake, located about 40 miles southeast of Richfield, for a few years, but they have done really well. The best place to see them is at Twin Creeks. The boardwalk provides a great view of the spawning fish. This can also be a great location to take pictures or video clips of the fish because the water is crystal clear. Spawning usually runs from late September to early October in this area. A DWR viewing event will be held then and details will be available as the event gets closer.
If you see any of the beautiful spawning kokanee this fall, use the hashtag #UtahSalmon on social media to share your photos and videos with the DWR.
Photos courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Media contact: DWR Public Information Officer Faith Heaton Jolley at 385-266-2640