UTAH (ABC4) – Not only have the leaves turned red, fish have too! Kokanee salmon have started to turn bright red and spawn, a process the Department of Natural Resources works to protect. 

Bright red kokanee salmon started to swim upstream in Utah. 

“It’s that time of year, the greatest time of year in my opinion,” Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) outreach manager Scott Root said. 

From a silver to a vibrant red-orange, both the male and female kokanee salmon are now ready to lay and fertilize eggs. 

“They almost turn inside out when it’s their time to spawn. Mother nature taps them on the fin and says it’s your turn,” Root said. 

But the process for the fish is much more complicated than just changing color. 

“They turn red, they stop eating, their insides turn to mush and they have one thing on their mind and that is to spawn. And they go upstream, that’s their instinct: they spawn, lay their eggs and then they die,” Root said. 

Kokanee salmon play an important role in our ecosystem. Not only do they provide diversity and more fishing, but they also compete with other fish like trout and most importantly the utah chub: a species that has a tendency to overpopulate our rivers and lakes. 

“A good combination of those three species and it’s worked out well,” Root said. 

At Strawberry Reservoir in Wasatch County the DWR has a hatchery for the fish to help them populate our waters. 

“In the wild, 10% or less of those eggs will survive to be little fish and in the hatchery system we’ll get 70% or more,” Root said. 

The fish in the hatchery then get realized into the wild both for wildlife and fishing purposes. But from now until the end of November it’s illegal to catch the species. 

Instead, DWR invites you to see them spawning for yourself, because in the next couple of weeks they’ll be gone. 

“We love having people come up here and look at these amazing fish,” Root said, 

You can find a full list of where you can find kokanee salmon here