Kokanee salmon continue fall spawning run

If you missed October's kokanee salmon spawning run in Taylor Creek, here's your second chance.

A second wave of fish is crowding into the creek, indicating that the habitat is successfully recovering from the 1997 floods.

"We've had different peaks in the run before but this one is a little unusual because the fish are a little larger than the first group that came through," said Jeff Reiner, Forest Service aquatics biologist.

Reiner said the first group of fish measured in at about 8 to 10 inches and the second group, which came along about a month later, measure about 10 to 12 inches.

Both groups are still under the normal maturation size of 13 to 16 inches, depending on sex.

The reduction in size may be attributed to an increase in salmon introduction by the California Department of Fish and Game.

In January 1997 floods ripped through Taylor Creek, destroying the gravelly bed where Lake Tahoe's salmon like to lay their eggs.

That spring, Fish and Game planted some 340,000 kokanee, double the normal annual plant, to compensate for a projected decline in reproduction.

Those fish are the same ones spawning in Taylor Creek now.

"If we increase our stocking numbers, the fish won't grow as large because the food is limited," said Dennis Lee, Fish and Game senior fishery biologist. "That's why the fish are smaller this year."

Kokanee salmon, which feed off plankton, were introduced to Lake Tahoe in the 1940s for angling enjoyment. Since then, the Fish and Game has sustained that population, using it for a breeding stock.

"We harvest about 1.5 million eggs out of Taylor Creek each year," said Patrick Foy, Fish and Game spokesman. "We lose about half those eggs and grow about 800,000 in our fish hatchery at the American River."

Each year, about 150,000 of the fish are returned to Tahoe. Three years later they are ready for their final mission - reproduction.

Once they find a suitable spawning ground - Taylor Creek or other gravelly tributaries and shorelines - the female salmon lay its eggs and the males fertilize. Once their mission is complete, the fish die.

Each fall, Taylor Creek hosts about 40,000 spawning salmon.

With the run sparking new energy, the biologists expect a normal reproduction cycle this year.

"Things look good and I don't know if it's because we helped out or if it's all Mother Nature's doing," Lee said.

This year's 1.5 million eggs have already been taken from Taylor Creek. The second group provides a bonus to the natural spawn.

To view the fish in action visit the Taylor Creek bridge north of Camp Richardson on California State Route 89. The Forest Service's stream profile chamber, which allows a look into the creek's depths, is closed for the season. The second wave is expected to last through Thanksgiving.

Oncorhynchus nerka

Kokanee salmon


The females average length is 13 to 14 inches, and the males are 15 to 16 inches long. Normally, their backs are dark blue and their sides are silvery, but as spawning season approaches, both sexes blush, or turn red. The jaw of the male develops a hook, and a hump forms in its back.


The kokanee require cool 42- to 55-degree water temperatures for spawning, dictating exactly when they swim up Taylor Creek. By the time the kokanee reach the stream in late September or October, they have lost their stomachs and have only one thing left to do before they die - reproduce. The female releases her eggs, the male fertilizes them and then they protect the nest for the rest of their lives, which is only a few days.


Kokanee eggs hatch within three to five months depending on water temperature. The fry live on the yolk sack for 30 to 45 days. After that, they emerge from the gravel and move to the lake. From the 200 to 1,800 eggs laid each year, only a few will survive to adulthood, and even fewer will live to spawn. After two to four years, the kokanee return to Taylor Creek to spawn. All kokanee die after spawning. Their bodies decompose in the stream, providing a winter food source for bald eagles, gulls, great blue herons, raccoons, coyotes and other animals.


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