Tahoe Nugget #95:
Kokanee Salmon Spawn
October 5, 200
It's that time of year again when up to 20,000 Kokanee Salmon surge from Lake Tahoe into Taylor Creek for their annual spawn. Kokanee are the smaller, land-locked cousins of the ocean-going Sockeye Salmon often
seen on The Discovery Channel or in National Geographic Magazine. Their Latin name, Oncorhynchus nerta, means "hooked nose of flowing waters" and they are the only members of the salmon sub-family
to complete their entire life cycle in fresh water. Most of the year, the fish are blue and silver colored, but when fall approaches, they turn a brilliant red with a green tint to their heads. The males, which are
much larger than the females, undergo an even stranger transformation. Their lower jaw develops a characteristic hook common to Pacific salmon, and their normally streamlined backs gain a hump. These features equip
the fish for the coming competition for mates and territory.
When cooler weather lowers the water temperature of Taylor Creek to between 42 and 55 degrees, thousands of Kokanee Salmon make their way out of
the depths of Lake Tahoe and enter the creek to lay their eggs in the gravel beds. Biologists believe that the Kokanee locate their spawning grounds via an ultra-keen sense of smell. There are 63 streams that feed
Lake Tahoe, but the Kokanee spawn only in Taylor Creek. The females deposit their eggs (up to 1,800) into the sand and gravel where they are fertilized by the males. Soon after, all the adult fish will die and their
bodies will provide vital protein for many creatures, including bears, raccoons, coyotes and Bald Eagles. The eggs will hatch in about 100 days and the fry will eventually migrate out into Lake Tahoe, returning to
spawn after 3 or 4 years. The cycle is then complete.
The Kokanee are not native to Lake Tahoe. They were introduced in the early 1940s and stocked in lakes around California to provide food for trout. They
reached Tahoe accidentally when some escaped from a hatchery near Tahoe City and they have been here ever since. A Stream Profile Chamber constructed along Taylor Creek offers visitors the opportunity to see the
Kokanee up close and personal. It's awesome!
Photo #1: Kokanee Salmon gather in schools as they migrate up Taylor Creek
Photo #2: Pair of Kokanee males
Photo #3: Visitors enjoying the Taylor
Creek Stream Profile Chamber
Photo #4: Window into the world of fish