Each year at this time, the kokanee salmon, in all their red splendor, make their way upstream to spawn after spending several years in some of our best-known and popular reservoirs.
Today’s column will include descriptions of a couple of day (or longer) trips to locate and watch spawning kokanees as they complete the measure of their creation.
The first is an easy one: just head up Provo Canyon to Heber and then a right-hand turn on Highway 40 and continue up the canyon to Strawberry Reservoir.
The visitor’s center (though closed this year) is located on the right side of the road at Mile Marker 40. Park in the parking lot and walk a short 50 yards to the Strawberry River.
There is a path along the river on both sides of the road which will allow you to see all stages of the kokanee spawn: the fight to go upstream, the challenges for nesting spots, the actual spawn, and finally you could watch as the fish as slowly deteriorate and die after they have completed their life’s mission.
I can never get enough of watching these marvelous fish move in concert upstream. But almost as wonderful is the ride up Daniels Canyon to see the first vibrant fall colors, feel the crispness in the air, and know that fall is soon to be here.
Spend the day wandering around the reservoir, go to the dam on the Soldier Creek side and look for more kokanees jumping in the Aspen Grove area as they settle into their spawning areas.
Then get out of your vehicle and take a walk into the aspens and pines, smell the fresh mountain air and be thankful you are alive and well in this magnificent part of Utah. Spending a day at Strawberry without wetting a hook might sound strange coming from me, but trust me, this very week is the time to do just that. You and your family will be happy you did.
The second excursion is much longer but the rewards are even greater (in my opinion). Drive up Provo Canyon, turn left on Highway 40, head up to Park City, take a right-hand turn onto I-80 and head to Evanston, Wyoming.
Once there, continue on I-80 until Exit 34 at Bridger, Wyoming. Go through Bridger and take a right-hand turn at the four-way-stop in Urie, WY (just a couple miles away). Then, follow Highway 414 through Mountain View, Wy and on to Lone Tree, McKinnon and eventually, Manila, Utah.
Along the road you might see antelope, deer, and possibly a moose or two, but the real reason to be there is to end up at Sheep Creek to watch other kokanee salmon move upstream from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to spawn.
Once you enter Manila, you will turn right at Highway 44 which takes you towards the dam and eventually to Vernal. But in just a few short miles you will come to the Sheep Creek Geological Loop which takes off to your right.
Stop anywhere near the two bridges that cross Sheep Creek and watch hundreds of bright red kokanee salmon as they move upstream miles from the reservoir.
You could quite literally spend hours walking the trails along Sheep Creek and see not only kokanee salmon but deer and even the odd mountain goat in the local area.
Then, back in your vehicle and moving up the mountain, you could visit Red Canyon (around 20 miles farther), which is the closest overlook we have that rivals the Grand Canyon. Traveling across the tops of the Uinta Mountains is without a doubt, a “spiritual” experience.
Seeing Strawberry takes about 80 minutes from Utah County, while going to Sheep Creek takes three hours and 10 minutes. To some, Strawberry is the only option but for the adventurous few that make it to Sheep Creek, the experience will be like glimpsing a small piece of heaven while in one of the most beautiful parts of our state.
Remember, this is the week!