Kokanee are the same as sockeye salmon in all respects except they spend their entire lives in rivers and lakes and never swim to the sea like sockeye do.
Kokanee are often referred to as bluebacks and are found most often in deep, large lakes and reservoirs all over Idaho, including Lucky Peak, Anderson Ranch and Arrowrock.
The famous kokanee spawning run begins in late summer. The fish return to the stream of their origin to spawn.
Kokanee bodies turn vivid red and their heads green before they spawn.
Males get a prominent hooked nose and humped back while females are more slender and without the hooked jaw.
Its easy to spot them in clear rivers and streams in late summer and early fall. Its a great opportunity to see the fish in places such as Mores Creek near Idaho City or in the North Fork of the Payette River above Payette Lake near McCall.
Not all kokanee spawn in streams. [0x13]Some will spawn on the lake bottom or near the shores of reservoirs.
Kokanee dig nests known as redds and deposit their eggs in them. Just like their sea-swimming relatives, the fish die after they spawn, completing their life cycle.
Their bodies become an easy source of food for everything from eagles and ospreys to coyotes, skunks and other scavengers.
If not eaten, dead kokanee become fertilizer for the streams and help provide nutrients for the next generation of fish.
Kokanee eggs begin to hatch in early spring. Quickly the young leave gravel spawning beds and travel down the stream or river to reach the lake, where they grow to maturity.
Others will simply stay in the lake or reservoir where they spawned from.
Rarely are kokanee found near shore. They swim in large schools and tend to stay in deep water.
That can make catching them a challenge. When fishing, many anglers use special trolling rigs to get deep into the lake with multi-bladed trolling lures trailed by a spinner and corn.
How do you know if youve caught one? Kokanee range in size from about 8 inches to 24 inches and weigh up to about 5 pounds, but most are in the 13- to 16-inch range. They are very silvery and have a forked tail.
Even if you have no desire to reel one in, seeing a brilliant-red kokanee in a clear stream is an unforgettable sight.