When do Kokanee Spawn: Seasons, Locations and Conditions

All the details on when kokanee spawn. Find out where to find these landlocked salmon during spawning season and how to catch them

Kokanee Salmon are a fascinating fish. They provide anglers who are in non-coastal and non-Great Lakes areas an opportunity to fish for salmon. These landlocked fish complete their entire life cycle in freshwater lakes and rivers. They’re the land-locked version of sockeye salmon. They have similar tendencies but live entirely different lives!

When Do Kokanee Salmon Spawn?

Kokanee salmon spawn starting in the late fall and some spawns last until the early spring. Their natural instincts cause them to gather on gravel bars near lake shores or mouths of streams and rivers and look to begin the spawning process. Like non-landlocked salmon, they’ll still return to where they were spawned to complete the process. They’ll use their senses to smell and find the familiar water.

October through March are the most common times of year that you’re going to find a spawning Kokanee Salmon. They spawn at a similar time to lake trout, so this time of year in deep, cold lakes can be extremely busy.

What Conditions Trigger Spawning in Landlock Sockeye Salmon?

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Water temperatures are the main determinant in triggering a kokanee spawning run

Both genetics and environmental factors play a large role in what it takes to get a Kokanee Salmon to spawn. The biggest factor that plays a role in these spawning fish is the water temperature. Kokanee generally prefer water that’s somewhere between 45 and 55 degrees.

In the fall, after the water temperatures begin to drop due to the colder air temperatures, the salmon rely on instincts and head toward their spawning grounds. It’s not an exact science as to the day they’ll begin their spawn, but late fall due to the colder water temperatures and development of eggs cause them to spawn.

What Physical Changes do Spawning Kokanee Salmon Go Through?

Kokanee salmon wait until they’re somewhere between 3 and 5 years old to spawn. They’re fully mature and their bodies are able to withstand the incredibly exhausting process. Their bodies go through an entire change throughout the spawning season.

Some of the physical changes that the kokanee population endures during the spawn include changing colors, developing a hooked jaw and fang teeth. Kokanee salmon’s bodies will turn from a silver color to a bright red as they get closer to completing the spawn. Their heads will either turn a black or dark green color. Before the spawn, kokanee looks like silver trout.

Their mouths will change to more of a hook known as a kype and their teeth will become more pronounced.

Where Do Kokanee Choose to Spawn?

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Like other salmon species, kokanee spawn in redds on gravel beds in the river of their birth

Kokanee salmon choose to spawn wherever they were born. For some, they’ll spawn on gravel bars in the lake and for others they’ll travel up a freshwater stream or river. Wherever they “smell” the familiar water is where they’ll spawn.

How Do Kokanee Salmon Spawn?

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Females select the redds for spawning

Come late fall and early spring, you’ll start seeing Kokanee traveling in pairs to gravel bars and shores to create their redds and lay their eggs. This is similar to many trout and their spawning process.

The Redds are spots selected by the females to lay their eggs. To find the site, females complete an act called “nosing” to test the gravel. Once they find the ideal location, they’ll turn on their sides and slap the gravel with their tail to start digging down. The slapping of the gravel dislodges it. She’ll repeat the process until there’s a hole upwards of 15 inches deep.

As they’re digging, they’re attracting males who are competing to be with the females. Eventually, a male wins out over the rest of the others and becomes her companion.

When the female is ready to depose of the eggs, she’ll get in a crouch position with a wide open mouth. This makes her more resistant to the current and allows her to get deeper in the Redd. The male and female get close to one another and vibrate their tails. This causes the sperm and egg to be released at the same time. The eggs are released one or two at a time.

Do they Die After Spawning?

Yes, kokanee salmon do die after the spawning process. They’re just like their salmon cousins who enter spawning grounds from saltwater or the Great Lakes.

Can you Fish for Spawning Kokanee Salmon?

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You can fish for spawning kokanee, but be careful not to disturb their redds

Yes, you can fish for kokanee salmon. Kokanee fishing can look different depending on where and the time of year you’re fishing. Fly fishing, jigging, trolling and bait fishing are some of the most popular methods.

Regardless of the method you choose, you’ll notice that kokanee are extremely aggressive and more than eager to eat your bait. They hold in slack water and wait to ambush their prey as it’s floating near them.

Anglers fishing for kokanee will quickly notice that kokanee enjoy eating things like zooplankton and other tiny aquatic animals. They’ll use things called gill rakers to help when they’re suspension feeding. These allow them to suck up their food.

When you do fish for kokanee, make sure you’re aware of the time of year. You don’t want to fish for kokanee on Redds. This can harm their reproductive process. Kokanee populations are a bit fragile since they don’t have as many numbers, so make sure you’re careful with how and when you fish for them.

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Danny Mooers is a passionate fly fishing and angling writer from Arizona. Danny loves sharing his passion for fly fishing for trout and other species through his work for Tackle Village.
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