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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

Nugget #95 A Kokanee Salmon school001-01 copy

Nugget #95 B Pair Kokanee males002-01 copy

Nugget #95 C Profile Chamber003-01 copy

Nugget #95 D Fish in Profile Chamber005-01 copy

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