Where to see Utah's spawning kokanee salmon
Start a new tradition this fall
By Crystal Ross
DWR social media coordinator
I try to get my family outdoors every weekend, and fall is one of our favorite times to go exploring. In recent years, we've made it a tradition to watch Utah's kokanee salmon as they run up the rivers to lay their eggs.
Truthfully, I didn't know there were kokanee salmon swimming in Utah's waters until I started working for the Division and began promoting the viewing opportunities. Now, I'm completely enamored by these unique fish — especially their dramatic appearance and sassy behavior this time of year.
At summer's end, when kokanee undergo the transformation from sleek silver to fluorescent red, the males acquire humped backs, hooked jaws and elongated teeth. This is when the feisty fish bite and jostle as they embark on the most important (and final!) mission of their lives. The water is often so clear that the fish look like they are suspended in air.
In the past, we've enjoyed kokanee-watching at Strawberry and Sheep Creek, but I haven't quite decided where we'll go this year. I'd love to check out a new spot. Fortunately, there are a lot of great options!
Places to see salmon spawning
We have kokanee salmon in lakes and reservoirs across the state. In September and October, they swim up the nearby rivers and creeks to reproduce. Here's when and where you can see them:
At summer's end, kokanee undergo a transformation from sleek silver to fluorescent red.
Causey Reservoir (Weber County)
Causey Reservoir has a healthy, established salmon population. You have to either hike or paddle to see them, but they can be fun to watch. 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 and requires interested viewers to use a SUP, 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.
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. (There are both early-spawning and late-spawning fish in the lake, so the viewing opportunities last quite a while.) Both creeks are highly accessible at the pulloff on the north end of the lake that runs to the boat ramp. Upper Huntington Creek runs several miles north, right along Highway 96. There are many small pulloffs, and the creek is very close to the road.
Fish Lake (Sevier County)
Kokanee have only been in Fish Lake for a few years, but they have done really well. The best place to see them is at Twin Creeks. The new boardwalk should provide a great view of the spawning fish. This can also be a very good location to take pictures or video clips because the water is crystal clear. Spawning usually runs from mid-September to late October.
Flaming Gorge Reservoir (Daggett County)
Flaming Gorge is home to northeastern Utah's largest kokanee population. The best place to view spawning fish is from the Highway 44 bridge over Sheep Creek. There are also a few campgrounds along Sheep Creek before that bridge where you can pull over, park and view the fish along the creek. Important: If you see our fish trap in the river, please leave it alone. We keep it in place throughout the kokanee run and use it to collect eggs and milt (sperm) from some of the spawning fish. Spawning primarily occurs in September.
Jordanelle Reservoir (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. Note: Viewing opportunities in this area may be limited because the population is still growing and sometimes has to adapt to low water conditions. Spawning usually runs through the month of September and peaks about the middle of the month.
Porcupine Reservoir (Cache County)
This is another healthy population. Fish run up the east fork of the Little Bear River, which is the main source of water for the reservoir. Parking is very limited, though. If you head to Porcupine, 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 bet. Do not trespass on Cinnamon Creek Campground's land, which is located just upstream, and marked with a "No Trespassing" sign and locked gate. Peak spawning time is the middle of September.
Smith and Morehouse Reservoir (Summit County)
I'm completely enamored by these unique fish.
The Smith and Morehouse kokanee population was just started in the past few years, but there should be some fish that show up and run in either Smith and Morehouse Creek or in Red Pine Creek. The best time to see the fish is likely from late September to mid-October.
Stateline Reservoir (Summit County)
This reservoir is located on the north slope of the Uinta Mountains — about a half-mile from the Utah-Wyoming state line — and it offers great kokanee-viewing opportunities. Fish are typically small but very abundant. Fish run up the east fork of Smith's Fork, which feeds into the northern end of the reservoir. Peak spawning time is the middle of September.
Strawberry Reservoir (Wasatch County)
Strawberry has a strong kokanee population, and fish run up the Strawberry River to spawn. You can see them 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. You'll enjoy great viewing opportunities via the boardwalk and bridge and 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.
Obey the law and be ethical
Utah law protects salmon populations during the fall. If you catch a kokanee salmon anywhere in Utah — from Sept. 10 to Nov. 30, 2019 — you must release it.
Also, I've heard reports of people who pick up the fish for photo opportunities or who let their dogs loose to chase the fish in the streams. Please don't do that. Those salmon are just trying to get upstream and reproduce. Be ethical and don't interrupt their journey. You'll still have plenty of great photo and video opportunities!
Share your photos and videos
I love working with Utah's wildlife and helping people discover new wildlife-watching opportunities. If you're outside enjoying the kokanee spawning spectacle this fall, please share your photos and videos with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and use the hashtag #utahsalmon. I can't wait to see your adventures!