While fishing Strawberry Reservoir last week and seeing hundreds of bright-red kokanee salmon schooling near the areas we fished, I realized that the whole idea of having kokanees in some of our reservoirs in Utah is having a positive effect on overall fishing excitement. People love to catch salmon.
Kokanee salmon have been offering great fishing and viewing opportunities since 1922. Originally stocked in Bear Lake, a smaller lake on the Little Bear River, Porcupine Reservoir, is now home to a healthy population of the popular, yet elusive fish. Each fall, the Little Bear River provides a great out-of-the-way viewing opportunity as thousands of kokanee run up river to spawn. Porcupine Reservoir is located in far northern Utah but the Utah DWR is now stocking the land-locked relative of the Pacific Sockeye Salmon, an extremely popular ocean-going species of the northwest coast of the U.S., in many of Utah’s deeper reservoirs.
Let’s take a look at where you can find, view, and catch kokanee salmon in Utah.
I am constantly amazed at the sheer joy and excitement on the faces of anglers that break the code on catching kokanees. Flaming Gorge Reservoir is perhaps the best known destinations for kokanee fishing in Utah. From early spring through August, most of the anglers that try their luck in Flaming Gorge are trolling or jigging for kokanees. The fish travel in schools and could be anywhere from 20 to 80 feet deep or even deeper at times. Anglers locate the schools on their fish finders and drop down riggers to roughly the same depth and using flashers and either small spinners or brightly-colored squid imitations, troll through the schools and catch quality land-locked salmon.
Many of the lake trout guides on Flaming Gorge provide opportunities to catch a limit of kokanee salmon before settling in to catch large lake trout in one of the finest lake trout fisheries in the world.
Next on the list of kokanee destinations is (of course) Strawberry Reservoir. Added to the mix of species in the ‘90s (after the last rotenone treatment to control the chub population) anglers including me, targeted the species and learned to catch them, mostly on the Soldier Creek side of the reservoir. Now, kokanees can be found in almost all the deep sections of the reservoir, and some anglers have stopped fishing for any other species.
Right now, and for a week or two, kokanee salmon can be viewed (not caught) in the Strawberry River right next to the Forest Service Visitors Center located just off Highway 40 on FS 131 (the road to Strawberry Bay Marina). It is a fun experience to bring your children or grandchildren and let them walk up and down river looking for spawning fish.
Causey Reservoir, located on the South Fork of the Ogden River above the town of Huntsville, is a very scenic yet smaller reservoir that is also home to a very substantial kokanee population. I personally have not fished in the reservoir, but reports are that it is a wonderful fishery and most likely deserves a visit in the near future.
Other popular reservoirs now boasting populations of kokanee salmon are: Starvation, Jordanelle, Fish Lake, Electric Lake and Smith Morehouse Reservoir.
When fishing for kokanees, please be aware of the regulations. First, you cannot possess kokanee salmon between the 10th of September and the 30th of November. Next, you cannot fish for kokanees in the streams in which they spawn. The streams are closed to fishing during the spawn so look closely at the guidebook before venturing out this time of year.
Finally, don’t give up on catching kokanees just because you don’t land a single fish the first time or two you try. Kokanee salmon have “soft” mouths and therefore need a “stretchy” line in order to hook and keep the fish after they hit.
Kokanee salmon have found a home in Utah and are quickly becoming primary targets for growing numbers of Utah anglers.