Kokanee are the land-locked sockeye salmon. Unable to migrate to the ocean, kokanee rarely reach the proportions of their ocean run brethren. Their identifying characteristics are very similar to sockeye. Prior to spawn kokanee are a silvery sided fish with a green or blue back and white tips on the ventral and anal fins, and little or no spotting. Spawning males develop a bright to olive green coloring on the heads, bright red body coloration, often a hooked jaw and a small, but obvious hump. Spawning females exhibit a less brilliant coloration than males, the jaw is “normal” and they retain their prespawn shape. Their size at maturity is typically 12-18 inches.
Kokanee live in a lakes most of their lives, doing best in well oxygenated, open waters that don’t exceed 60 degrees. They feed primarily on zooplankton, small fish and insects are occasionally taken. Their diet can change throughout the year based upon food availability.
Kokanee are most readily available to anglers during spawn, which occurs from early August through late December. Were self-sustaining populations exist they run up streams or rivers after 2-4 years in open waters. Were stocked, they return to their release point. Females build redds on gravel bars, with both sexes defending the nest. Once the eggs are laid and fertilized Once fertilized, the eggs are buried beneath the gravel. Most kokanee die within a week after spawning. Fry emerge in April through June, then move downstream to mature in lakes or reservoirs. In many regions kokanee stocks are maintained through stocking programs.
Kokanee in Colorado
Kokanee (land-locked Pacific sockeye salmon) are suited to the large, fluctuating mountain reservoirs of Colorado. These silver fish with black spots on the upper half of their bodies can be found swimming in compact schools feeding on zooplankton, a food source unaffected by the drawing down of reservoirs. They turn reddish in color and males develop a “hook jaw” during the fall spawning season. Trolling with cowbells at medium depths provides angling success. Special snagging seasons are offered on some areas during spawning runs, and provide much of the catch for these delicious salmon. Kokanee die after spawning.
Kept angling 27.5 inches, 6 lb 13 oz
Kept snagging 27 inches 7 lb 5oz
Released 28 inches
Qualifying length for a Colorado Master Angler Award is 20 inches.