Regardless of the fishery, wherever kokanee salmon have been stocked in Utah, August is moving month for this freshwater version of the sockeye salmon.
Their life cycle is between four and six years here in Utah and culminates with mature adults heading back to where they were stocked or hatched to spawn and eventually die.
During the month of August and into September, schools (both large and small) of kokanee move from their normal summer haunts and begin staging for the upcoming spawn that begins in the middle of September and runs through the end of November in most Utah fisheries.
In this week’s column, I will discuss how to locate staging areas for kokanee salmon and how to harvest some of these delightful and incredibly tasty fish.
The challenge in locating staging areas is simply understanding where the kokanee salmon were stocked.
In the case of Jordanelle Reservoir near Park City, Utah, hundreds of thousands of fingerlings were stocked since 2016 in the Provo River within a mile or so of where the river enters the reservoir.
As a result, staging areas for kokanee salmon getting ready to return to the Provo River to spawn would be on either side of the Provo River Arm of the reservoir in areas where gravel, rock and cliffs are present.
Kokanee salmon can move quickly and schools could be in the main body of water one day and the next could have moved a mile or more towards their ultimate goal.
Strawberry Reservoir is another example of staging near where they were initially stocked.
The Strawberry River (home to the annual kokanee viewing festival each September), near the Visitor Center just off Highway 40, is the most obvious area in which kokanee salmon spawn.
Their staging areas would then be along both shorelines from Chicken Creek, Mud Creek and even the mouth of the Narrows across from Strawberry Bay Marina. Once again, these fish like gravely banks, deep rocks, boulders, and fairly deep water close by.
The confusing part about Utah kokanees and where they spawn is that early on, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) stocked kokanees in many dead end areas such as marinas and launch ramps so the spawning salmon would return there to spawn even though there were no streams or rivers up which they would normally swim.
More recently, the UDWR has become much more proficient in deciding where to and where not to stock kokanee. Inlet streams and rivers are the best areas to stock, so first look near the inlets to locate staging areas for the spawn.
Flaming Gorge, by far the most prolific population in the state, has literally scores of areas kokanees stage to get ready for the spawn, and they have multiple inlet streams and rivers in which they are stocked.
Anywhere within a few miles of inlet rivers or streams and in rocky banks, near cliffs in anywhere from 20 to 100 ft depths, August begins the migratory “collecting” of huge schools of mature kokanee salmon getting ready for the spawn.
Just last week, at the mouth of Sheep Creek Bay, literally thousands of kokanees were lining up on several rocky points within a couple of miles of the mouth of Sheep Creek. I found them on my fish finder in 40 to 70 feet of water.
As the kokanees “stack up” in the staging areas, jigging with spoons tipped with corn or Berkley maggots in green, white, or pink has been particularly effective. Last Friday morning, I had my three-fish-limit in 20 minutes between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.
The two largest fish (shown in the photo) were 20 and 19 inches respectively and both had developed the “hooked jaw” and were just turning pink.
Between now and the 10th of September — when kokanee salmon fishing ends in Utah until December — there should be ample time to locate staging kokanees and catch some mature fish as they get ready to spawn.