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Kokanee salmon identification

Kokanee salmon identification

Kokanee salmon
Oncorhynchus nerka

Kokanee Salmon
Kokanee are the land-locked form of sockeye salmon. Because they never migrate out to the ocean to feed, kokanee are often much smaller than sockeye. However, other than their size, kokanee have very similar identifying characteristics as sockeye. Most kokanee live in a lake for most of their lives, so you may see them spawning near the edge of a lake or in a small tributary that feeds into a lake. There are kokanee populations in Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, Issaquah Creek, and other the other small creeks that feed into these water bodies. If you see a fish, here's some tips to use to determine whether or not it's a kokanee...

Photos from Inland Fishes of Washington by Whitney and Wydoski, © 1979 University of Washington Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Washington Press.

Male kokanee
Adult Male Kokanee Salmon.
Female kokanee
Adult Female Kokanee Salmon.

Identification characteristics:

  • In males, back and sides are bright red to dirty red-gray, head is bright to olive green, tail is green to black
  • In females, colors not as bright, but red above lateral line
  • Possible spots on back or tail fin
  • Males have a large dorsal hump
  • Range in length from 10-18 inches

Spawn timing:

  • November through February, peaking in mid-December

Now that you know all about identifying salmon in streams, test yourself! Click on the mystery fish page to find out more!