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See Kokanee Salmon Spawning This Weekend

Each fall thousands of salmon feel their internal clocks tick, and begin a perilous journey upstream to spawn. Spawning salmon look nothing like the silvery, trout-shaped fish you would catch when fishing for salmon in a reservoir.

Like bears in hibernation, salmon feed on the fat they have built up in the non-spawning season as they make their journey to their spawning areas. The fish barely eat, their bodies essentially consume themselves, the fish turn a bright red as their scales disintegrate, and the tissue around their skulls is consumed, giving them the appearance of elongated heads and jaws when they arrive to spawn. 

On the journey to spawning grounds, salmon stop generating the mucous layer of “slime” that covers their bodies protecting them from infections. Once the fish start their spawning run, and all nutrients are devoted to this journey, the slime layer begins to slough off and the fish are more susceptible to injuries and fungal infections. For salmon with especially long runs, they will arrive at spawning grounds looking like they’re mossy.


This weekend on Saturday, September 18, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is hosting an annual event at the Strawberry Reservoir Visitor Center, where anyone can come and see Kokanee Salmon from the reservoir spawning. Scott Root, a Public Relations and Outreach Manager with DWR, explains this event, 

“We will be on hand to answer questions about these interesting fish. And maybe even let people actually hold one if they'd like. So it'll be a fun day. It always is.”

Biologists collect the eggs and sperm from adults, improving the survival rate of young fish says Root. “And we'll take those eggs and we'll take them to our fish hatchery and raise those young fish after they hatch, where they have, you know, like at least a 70% or more chance of surviving. But in the wild, it's got to be like, under 10%.”

They young fish are reared in the hatchery, until they get to be two to three inches long, says Root, 

“We'll put them back into the rivers and into the reservoir or maybe other bodies of water if they're looking for some more kokanee salmon in our state.”


Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!