The 13th annual Kokanee Salmon Festival at South Lake Tahoe
To reach the Visitor’s Center, take U.S. 50 west from Carson City to its junction with California S.R. 89 at South Lake Tahoe (known as the “Y” at South Lake Tahoe).
At the “Y,” stay in the right-hand lane and take S.R. 89 north toward Camp Richardson and Tahoe City.
Just past Camp Richardson, the paved road which leads to Fallen Leaf Lake will be on your left.
Continue traveling on S.R. 89 for several hundred more yards.
The paved road on your right leads to the parking areas at the U.S.F.S. Visitor’s Center.
The Kokanee Salmon Festival is centered around the spectacular, annual spawning, migration run of the Kokanee salmon, which is a landlocked version of the ocean-going, Sockeye salmon.
Here is some fascinating information about that small-sized salmon:
The Kokanee were first introduced (accidentally) into Lake Tahoe way back in 1944 by biologists working on the lake’s north shore.
Those accidental releases quickly adapted to the alpine environment and joined the Mackinaw (lake), German brown and rainbow trout as prominent game fish in that huge, deep, cold, Alpine lake. Following that release, California then deliberately planted Kokanee eggs in Taylor Creek to initiate a spawning run at that location.
Nowadays, each and every year, thousands of the Kokanee make their way back from the deep waters of Lake Tahoe to their birth places in Taylor Creek, which is on the grounds of the Visitor’s Center.
Each fall, Mother Nature mysteriously calls the mature salmon to return to where they were born in Taylor Creek.
Most interesting, only the four-year old Kokanee make this final journey.
The one, two and three year olds are still out in the deep waters of Lake Tahoe, enjoying whatever it is that Kokanee enjoy doing.
And, I might add that they are also trying to stay out of the way of large Mackinaw trout who consider them an important source of food.
It is not uncommon, to catch a large sized “Mack” that is stuffed full of small Kokanee salmon.
As that time approaches in the fall for the Kokanee to make that journey upstream, the males develop a humped back and a heavy, hooked jaw to equip them for battles with other males for spawning beds, which are known as “Redds.”
Both the males and the females gradually change from their normal, sleek, shiny silver/blue color to a brilliant red with ugly white splotches, all over their bodies.
At this time in their lives, they would not classified as “good looking!”
Thousands of the salmon then travel up crystal-clear, Taylor Creek to display their spawning colors to attract a mate and then having done so, they pair off to spawn.
Once they have paired off, they will fiercely battle other Kokanee to protect a small patch of gravel where they make their nests.
Sadly, after the female has deposited her eggs in the Redd and the male has fertilized them, their mission in life is over and they both die shortly afterwards.
Then as part of Mother Nature’s renewal cycle, after about 100 days, the tiny Kokanee fingerlings, called eye-sac fry, emerge from the gravel beds, journey down the creek to reach Lake Tahoe and then, it’s their turn to continue the amazing life cycle of that fascinating fish.
This year’s version of the Kokanee Salmon Festival is sponsored by Alpen Sierra Coffee Company, Alpina Cafe, Montrail, Gatorade, Camp Richardson, Nor-Cal Beverage, U.S. Foods, Bonanza Produce, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Pro Leisure, Tahoe Heritage Foundation and U.S. F.S.
All proceeds from T-shirts sales, Festival pin sales and the run events will benefit environmental education programs sponsored by the U.S.F.S. in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Kokanee Festival activities will feature the following:
Saturday: Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., nature walks and trailside exhibits on the Rainbow Trail.
That trail takes you to the spawning Kokanee in both Taylor Creek and in the “stream profile” chamber.
That underground chamber features exhibits and its floor-to-ceiling window allows visitors to look into the clear waters of Taylor Creek to observe the salmon and other fish in their native habitat.
In addition, there will be:
Visits by “Sammy Salmon,” the official mascot of the Festival.
At over five feet long (or tall), he is the world’s largest Kokanee salmon and Sammy is the only Kokanee known to walk on his tail fins!
Educational booths by groups such as Project Kokanee, the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery and the California Fish and Game Dept.
A black bear display by the Nevada Division of Wildlife.
A bald eagle display by U.S.F.S.
Various food and drink concessions.
Then at 2 p.m., the Recycled String Band will perform in the Lake of The Sky Amphitheater.
Sunday: Will feature a repeat of all of the activities listed for Saturday, plus a children’s 1/2 mile “Tadpole Trot,” starting at 9:15 a.m., followed at 10 a.m. by adult (and a growing number of youngsters) 5K and 10K trail runs.
To register for the running events, call Dave Cotter at (530) 542-3424.
At 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, U.S.F.S. Visitor’s Center staff members will give a presentation of the Kokanee salmon life cycle will be held in the Amphitheater.
A salmon plate barbecue (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) will be served on both days by members of the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Center.
The cost is $10 per person for salmon (Pacific Ocean variety!), corn on the cob, coleslaw, roll and beverage. Other food items will be available for those who haven’t developed a salmon palate, yet!
Proceeds will go to benefit the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care and future Kokanee Salmon Festivals.
Finally, if you have not made any plans for this weekend, why not plan to attend the 13th annual Kokanee Salmon Festival at South Lake Tahoe. You’ll have a ball!
For information concerning the salmon feed, call (653) 577-CARE.
For information about the annual Kokanee Salmon Festival, call Michael St. Michel of the U.S. Forest Service at (530) 573-2611 or the U.S.F.S. Lake Tahoe Visitors Center at Taylor Creek at (530) 573-2674.
— Bet Your Favorite Pigeon
Bet your favorite pigeon that he can’t tell you the size of the biggest Kokanee caught at Lake Tahoe.
If he grins and says, “It is a 4-pound, 13-ounce, 25.7 inch, “Koke” caught in 1973 by Dick Bournique,” he has been looking at the list of Record Fish of Nevada.