A chance to witness nature in Utah

Sep 6, 2023, 1:00 PM | Updated: 2:24 pm

Image of a Kokanee Salmon...

Each fall, living in and visiting Utah affords the opportunity to witness the life cycle of Kokanee Salmon. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

SALT LAKE CITY — One of the reasons we love to live in Utah is our proximity to nature.

It’s a selling point for tourism all over the world with canyon access less than 30 minutes from Salt Lake International Airport. A half-hour’s drive to world-class skiing, quiet camping, hunting, and fishing. More importantly, a chance to witness nature at its finest even if you’re not an avid outdoorsman. One such opportunity happens each fall as the life cycle of Kokanee Salmon takes center stage.

It turns out that Fall color changes aren’t just for the leaves on the trees each September and October! As they near the end of their lives, usually within 3-5 years, the highly sought-after Kokanee Salmon head up rivers and streams adjacent to wherever they were planted.  This effort creates quite a show as the usual silver body and black head turn red and green. There are several things at play here. 

First, the bright color helps in attracting a mate with the males developing a quite noticeable hump on their backs. But in reality, as nature takes its course, the flesh of the Kokanee salmon is, in fact, dying. After the spawn, the salmon becomes food for other predators and supply nutrients to the broader ecosystem. A process that plays out year after year providing the next season’s schools for anxious anglers throughout the Beehive state!

Where to see Kokanee Salmon in Utah

Utah planted Kokanee throughout the state as the demand grew because of their fun fight at the other end of a hook. They are also a tasty addition to any planned meal after a successful day on the water. From Jordanelle reservoir and Provo River in Summit County to Electric Lake and its main tributary as it splits into Boulger Creek and upper Huntington Creek.  The largest population of Kokanee in northeastern Utah is in Flaming Gorge, where typically the best place to view the spawning fish is from the Highway 44 bridge over Sheep Creek.

If you’re interested in not just seeing the spectacle but also having the chance to ask questions of biologists in a controlled environment, mark September 16th on the calendar between 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. and head up to the Forest Service visitors center along Highway 40 at Strawberry Reservoir. Biologists will be on hand as the fish make their way through the fish trap stripping the eggs of the fish.

Fish Lake in Sevier County will also have an event on September 30th between 8 a.m.- 12 p.m. right on the boardwalk near the Fish Lake Lodge.

Visit the Division of Wildlife website, for a full list of locations and events.

One more note for anglers. You can’t 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. Violators could be cited.

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