The kokanee in Tahoe
Kokanee salmon, landlocked cousins of the sea-going Sockeye Salmon, were introduced to Lake Tahoe in 1944 by biologists working on the lake’s north shore. These predecessors of today’s inhabitants quickly adapted to the Alpine environment, joining brown trout and Mackinaw among the most prominent game fish in Lake Tahoe. However, no other species in Lake Tahoe offers such a spectacular show in mating season.
Each autumn nature calls mature kokanee to return to t he streams from which they were hatched, select a mate, spawn and die. As that time approaches adult males develop a humped back and a heavy, hooked jaw, equipping them for the inevitable battles over both mates and territory, and both sexes turn from their usual silver/blue color to a brilliant red. Then, en masse, the fish make one mad dash to their mating grounds, fighting their way up the shallow stream, displaying their colors to attract a mate and battling to protect the small patch of gravel streambed where they make their “redds” or nests.
Along the streambanks the autumn aspens, willows and grasses will be as brilliant as the display in the creek below. Almost as dramatic as the story of life and death being played out in the water are the colorful combinations of orange, gold and red as the vegetation prepares to shed their foliage in anticipation of winter. Throughout the Salmon Festival interpretive/naturalists will be on hand to explain t he forces of nature that cause these annual displays.
Whereas most Forest Service wildlife programs focus on land animals or birds, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has created a unique educational program to view the kokanee salmon in their natural habitat. For those who cannot make it to the festival, the kokanee salmon can be seen in Taylor Creek throughout the month of October.
For more information contact the Lake Tahoe Visitor Center at Taylor Creek, (530) 573-2674.
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