Sockeye Salmon

Oncorhynchus nerka

Spawning Sockeye SalmonSockeye Salmon

Sockeye Salmon are often called the Shy salmon. They are also known as Red Salmon in Alaska. The land locked version of this species is known as the Kokanee salmon. Unlike the other species of Pacific salmon, Sockeye salmon feed almost exclusively on Plankton.  This unique trait makes them more reluctant to chase and/or strike a fly placed in front of them.  Because of their feeding behavior and the fact that the adults may travel very far upstream to spawn, on the order of several hundred miles to reach their spawning ground, their meat is very rich and are considered to be the best tasting of the salmon species.

Life Cycle

Sockeye Salmon have a life span of three to eight years with four and five years being the most common.  Another trait that is unique to Sockeye is that they require a lake to rear their fry in.  This necessitates that the adults utilize those rivers  that contain a lake in their system. Adults begin their migration fairly early during the summer months as they often have to travel considerable distances to reach their natal water, often many hundreds of miles.  Once the adults arrive they deposit their eggs in gravel where they mature until the fry emerge, usually the following April and May.  The fry then spend one or two years in a lake prior to migrating to the sea.

Run Timing

Sockeye do not tend to congregate in estuaries like the other salmon.  Some strains of Sockeye may travel as many 50 miles per day and complete the majority of their upstream journey in the matter of a couple of weeks.  To target these fish it is important to know the exact timing of a specific run or you may miss the limited opportunity to catch them.  Generally however, the timing of the runs is from mid-July through the end of August.

Approach

It is often possible to get with just a few feet of holding Sockeye salmon.  Getting them to take a fly is not so easy.  It can be maddening at times to see your fly being presented to numerous fish without so much as even a look.  The flies that have been the most successful at catching Sockeye tend to be very sparsely tied.  The take is very subtle but you'll definitely know once you've hooked one of these fish as they immediately torpedo up and then back down stream, turn around, head back up. 

Washington Fresh Water Record

10 lbs. 10 oz., Gary Krasselt, Lake Washington, 7/20/82

Copyright © 2001 The Northwest Fly Fisherman