9 places to see bright red kokanee salmon in Utah this fall
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 prior to traveling 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, allowing their dogs to chase the fish or by trying to pick the fish up.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will not be holding any public viewing events this year. However, you can still go see the spawning kokanee salmon on your own throughout the month of September and into October. If possible, you should visit these locations during the week, as they can become crowded on the weekends. Be sure to follow social distancing recommendations and recreate responsibly.
Here are nine public places to go see these incredible fish while they change color:
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Strawberry Reservoir (Wasatch County)
You can see kokanee salmon at the U.S. Forest Service visitor center at Strawberry Reservoir. The visitor center is located just off U.S. 40, about 20 miles southeast of Heber City. While the visitor center is currently closed, due to COVID-19, the boardwalk is open and the visitor center bathrooms are still available. You'll enjoy great viewing opportunities via the boardwalk and bridge, as well as at the DWR spawning trap, which is just across the river from the visitor center. Spawning occurs throughout September but peaks in the middle of the month.
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 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.
Sheep Creek (Daggett County)
Flaming Gorge is home to northeastern Utah's largest kokanee population. The best place to view the spawning fish is from the Highway 44 bridge over Sheep Creek or the educational trail along the creek. There are also a few campgrounds along Sheep Creek where you can park and view the fish along the creek, including at the Manns, Willows and Carmel campgrounds. Visitors should note that Sheep Creek is closed to fishing from Aug. 15 until the last Saturday of November. If you see the DWR fish trap in the river, 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. The spawning in this area primarily occurs in September.
If you visit the area during the early morning or mid-afternoon hours, you may also see other wildlife, including bighorn sheep and turkeys.
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 should provide 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 early October to early November.
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.
If you have the exciting opportunity to view kokanee this fall, use the hashtag #utahsalmon on social media to share your photos and videos with the DWR.