On Sept. 15, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resource will hold its annual Kokanee Salmon Day. Viewing runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.The event is free, and the viewing site is easy to get to.
Sheep Creek is in northeastern Utah, about six miles south of Manila. The viewing site is at the Scenic Byway turnout where Sheep Creek crosses under state Route 44. DWR biologists will be at the site between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Display materials will be available that will help you understand the life history and the behavior of the salmon you see in the stream. Spotting scopes will also be available in case bighorn sheep visit the area, which they usually do during Kokanee Salmon Day.
Kokanee are a land-locked relative of the salmon found in the Pacific Ocean. Rather than migrating upstream from the ocean, though, the Sheep Creek population migrates upstream from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to spawn in the stream.
On Sept. 4, biologists said salmon were staging offshore but hadn't entered the stream yet. "They're a bit late," says Ron Stewart, a conservation outreach manager with the DWR, "but that's common for a drought year."
In 2011, Stewart says the salmon started entering the stream on Aug. 26. Records kept by the DWR show the salmon have come into the stream as late as Sept. 9. "Anglers are seeing good numbers of salmon turning red in the reservoir," Stewart says, "so we hope when they do decide to run, the spawning run will be good one." Seeing bright red kokanee salmon makes a trip to Sheep Creek more than worth it. But the salmon are often just one of many wildlife species that have been seen on Kokanee Salmon Day. Stewart says you should bring your camera and binoculars to the event. "At Sheep Creek," he says, "Kokanee Day often becomes 'Wildlife Day.' You can often see bighorn sheep, turkeys and other wildlife from the viewing site and the surrounding area."
If bighorns or turkeys appear, Stewart says you'll be able to see them through spotting scopes DWR biologists will focus on the animals. Or the biologists can help you spot them so you can see them through your own spotting scope or binoculars.
In addition to bighorn sheep, Stewart says other big mammals, and a large variety of smaller mammals and birds, often pay a visit. "Birds of prey, including golden eagles, kestrels, osprey and vultures, are frequent visitors," Stewart says. "And participants often hear sandhill cranes flying overhead."
Stewart says driving along one of Utah's first National Scenic Byways — with its spectacular scenery and 18 interpretive sites — fall weather that's usually pleasant, leaves that are changing color, lots of wildlife and a chance to see bright red kokanee salmon make Kokanee Salmon Day an event you won't want to miss.
For more information, call the UDWR's Northeastern Region office at (435) 781-9453.