Let the Kokanee spawn | SierraSun.com

Let the Kokanee spawn

Bruce Ajari

There has been a lot of talk about the spawning Kokanee salmon this fall. For some reason, many more people have noticed them this year than in the past.

Perhaps it is due to the low water conditions in the Little Truckee River between Boca and Stampede reservoirs. Whatever the reason, many people have taken notice.

In a pool in this area many locals have nicknamed “the bat cave” due to the way the water sweeps underneath a large rock outcropping, viewing Kokanee has been easy. One can actually stand up by the guard rail on the road around midday and peer down into the water and see literally hundreds of these fish.

Kokanee is a land locked sockeye salmon. As is the case with all Pacific salmon, they die after spawning. In the ocean they are an anadramous species. They are reared in freshwater, go out to the ocean and return to the same streams in which they were born when mature enough to spawn.

For a sockeye salmon this takes about four years. In our drainage, Kokanee in the gravel hatch from the eggs deposited during the fall spawning runs. They then go through an Alevin, fry and fingerling stage before returning to the local lake from which their parents came.

There they will spend the next four years and become mature adults and begin their own migration upstream to spawn. The fish that are in the Little Truckee at the moment have not turned the characteristic red color that mature spawning fish will.

A person can spend quite a bit of time observing their behavior. You will notice that there is a large grouping of fish in the early stages of spawning and, eventually, they begin to pair up to begin the spawning ritual.

If you are lucky you can witness the female laying on its side and digging the redd (nest) with strokes of her tail. Once an adequate nest is dug, she will lay many eggs and the male will fertilize them. The female will then cover the redd with gravel with more strokes of her tail.

Anglers who fish in the Little Truckee and any other drainage where spawning is occurring, either in the spring or fall, should recognize these redds or nests. They are easy to spot because the bottom has the appearance of cleaned gravel. Right now these spots are really easy to spot. Sometimes they are small and other times quite large. If you see clean gravel, do not walk on top of it! You will crush the eggs. Be very careful with your wading, and if at all possible, stay out of the water altogether.

The redds that you see on the Little Truckee River now are not only from Kokanee, but also from brown trout, which are also fall spawners. Please exercise caution while wading in these areas.

Also, please do not harass the fish that are sitting on the redds. This is considered pretty unethical among knowledgeable anglers. Fish on the redds are very susceptible to being caught because they attempt to protect the nest. Even if you are catch-and-releasing, there is a greater chance that these spawning fish may die when released because of their weakened state.

There are fish that follow the Kokanee and the brown trout into the streams in the fall because of the tremendous opportunity to eat eggs that drift downstream. Many times you can actually spot rainbows below the spawning fish that are eating eggs. This time of year they are very vulnerable to an egg pattern that imitates the Kokanee or brown trout egg.

Most anglers would agree that they are much more fun to catch using a dry fly. This time of year also affords a great opportunity to do that because of all the fish present in the drainage and the different insects that are continuing to hatch.

Whatever your preference, be careful not to wade on the redds, and please do not attempt to catch spawning fish. This ensures future angling success for everyone.

Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.