AVON — September is the start of Fall and brings a lot of beautiful colors to Cache Valley’s landscape; however, leaves aren’t the only things that turn a brilliant shade of red in the Fall — kokanee salmon do as well. The annual kokanee salmon run at Porcupine Reservoir is a popular destination for many outdoor enthusiasts this time of year.
Visitors can watch the normally silver-colored fish swim up the Little Bear River at the east end of the popular fishing destination after they turn red. The reservoir was built in 1964 by the Porcupine Reservoir Company and is located about seven miles southeast of Paradise.
The red color makes the fishes 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.
DWR spokesperson Faith Jolley said the salmon are vulnerable during the run and should be left alone.
“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,” she said. “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.”
For those people who want to go 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,” she added. “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.”
Chris Penne, the aquatics manager for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said spawning generally goes through the month of September with the peek during mid-month.
DWR usually sends up a fish biologist to Porcupine Reservoir during the annual run to count them. They’ve seen them as high as 9,000 salmon and as low as 1,500 salmon.
“The count is a long-term indicator that shows trends,” Penne said. “The kokanee population will build up every four to six years and then it will drop. It’s kind of a self-regulating mechanism.”
He said the average lifetime of the fish is three to four years. When they spawn, they go up steam to lay eggs and die.
“Their death is productive, it fertilizes the stream,” Penne said. “There will be more food for the rest of them because they fertilize the water.”
Kokanee are landlocked and spend their lives in fresh water, unlike their relatives that hatch in fresh water and migrate to the ocean then return to spawn in freshwater.
There are seven other locations to see the salmon run in Utah:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Electric Lake (Emery County)
- At the north end of Electric Lake, the main tributary splits into Boulger Creek and Upper Huntington Creek.
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.