Redd alert — look, but don’t disturb Wallowa kokanee spawning grounds (2013)
Wallowa Lake and the Wallowa River are once again becoming sheltering nurseries for spawning kokanee salmon.
Each year from late August to late October, the females, newly turned red and green in full spawning colors, dig a nest, called a redd, in the gravel along the riverbanks south of the lake and in gravel beds along the southern lakeshore. The male, now also red and green but with a hooked jaw and humped back, follows the female — vying to be the one to fertilize her eggs. As the female lays her eggs, the male releases sperm in a cloud in hopes of fertilizing them. The female then covers the redd and goes away to die, as does the male.
Throughout the winter, the eggs are protected by the gravel and, come spring, are ready to hatch and head back to the deeps of Wallowa Lake to live as silver immature kokanee until their spawning time comes.
Not much is known about the fish that spawn in the lake, but the clear waters of the river makes it easy to see the spawning fish and redds. The Kokanee Keepers, a group of volunteers recruited and trained by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and Oregon State Parks, can help you spot the fish and offer a few tips on how you can protect the redds.
Lindsey Jones, Wallowa Lake State park interpretive ranger, says the riverbanks are prime viewing areas and that’s where you can find the volunteers. “Sometimes people or dogs enter the water and disturb the spawning fish and redds, potentially crushing the eggs. Our volunteers are there to let visitors know the importance of kokanee to the Wallowa Valley and remind them that their actions affect the species’ future.”
ODFW recommends that the kokanee carcasses stay in the water and along the riverbanks. Not only are they rancid and extremely smelly and oily, they are an easy meal for animals preparing for winter and provide nutrients for all fish species in the river and lake. Additionally, there is a serious health risk to any dog that consumes a dying salmonid, which includes both salmon and trout.
For more information about the Wallowa kokanee, take a look at the Kokanee Keeper Information Sheet