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 in Utah — 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. Violators could be cited.
As in past years, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is holding two free viewing events to provide an educational opportunity to see the fish during their unique transformation. The events will be held at the following locations:
Strawberry Reservoir (Wasatch County)
This viewing event will be held Saturday, Sept. 16 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 and see them up close.”
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 during September.
Fish Lake (Sevier County)
This event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 30 from 8 a.m. to noon on the west shore of Fish Lake, which is located about 40 miles southeast of Richfield. The viewing event will be held at the boardwalk near the Fish Lake Lodge, and participants will be able to see the fish swimming up Twin Creeks, a tributary to Fish Lake.
“Kokanee have only been in Fish Lake for a few years, but they have done really well,” Southern Region Outreach Manager Adam Kavalunas said. “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.”
The Fish Lake Lodge is located at 2 N. State Route 25, Fish Lake. Parking is available at the Twin Creek picnic area northeast of the lodge along SR-25. While the event is free, participants are asked to register for it on Eventbrite. For more information, call the DWR’s Cedar City office at 435-865-6100.
Kokanee spawning usually runs from late September to early October in this area.
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.
Smith and Morehouse Reservoir (Summit County)
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 (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 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 (Daggett County)
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 creek, 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.
Visitors should note that the fish trap collection will be initiated earlier this year, so the viewing opportunities at Sheep Creek will likely be later than normal.
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.