Kokanee (Landlocked Sockeye Salmon) (Oncorhynchus nerka) - Introduced

Male Kokanee is spawning color.

A hooked-jawed, 13-inch male kokanee in spawning color.

Identification. Anal fin slightly longer than those of other trout and salmon (anal rays 13-18). Adults: Lining of mouth usually dark. Body lacking distinctive black spots, but fine speckling may be present. Tail concave to slightly forked. Non-spawning fish are dark grayish to greenish blue on the back, silvery on the sides, and white to silvery on the belly. Spawning males develop a pronounced kype (hooked jaw) and impressive sharp teeth. During spawning, the heads of both sexes become olive green, with some black on the snout and upper jaw. The body becomes brownish-red to bright red, with females typically less brightly colored than males. Parr - Parr marks short and stubby, none taller than diameter of the eye.

Female kokanee during spawning season.

Female kokanee also turn reddish during spawning season, but do not develop a "kype" (hooked jaw).

Size. Commonly 10 to 13 inches. Conn. State Record 2.8 pounds, 17.5 inches. World Record 9.4 pounds.

Distribution. Anadromous sockeye salmon are native to the Northern Pacific from the Bering Sea to California. Natural landlocked populations (kokanee) are found on the West Coast from Oregon north to Alaska. In Connecticut, kokanee were historically stocked into a number of lakes, but only a few populations became established. Only one significant kokanee fishery remains (West Hill Pond, New Hartford).

Kokanee salmon distribution map.

All maps created in 2009. See CT DEEP Fish Community Data for updated distributions.

Habits. Kokanee prefer relatively clear lakes with cold, well-oxygenated water. They feed throughout their lives almost exclusively on zooplankton. Adults spawn in the fall, typically at age 2 to 3, on gravelly shoals of lakes and, like most Pacific salmon, die soon after spawning.

Comments. Kokanee populations in Connecticut are dependent on supplemental annual fry (the larval stage) stocking. Spawning adults are captured with trap nets each fall and spawned in a hatchery. Fry produced are then stocked back into the lake. Because kokanee depend on zooplankton for food, they cannot compete with more prolific planktivorous fish, especially alewives. Two popular kokanee fisheries (East Twin and Wononscopomuc Lakes, Salisbury, indicated by open triangles on map) collapsed in the 1990s after alewives were illegally introduced.


Text and images adapted from Jacobs, R. P., O'Donnell, E. B., and Connecticut DEEP. (2009). A Pictorial Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Connecticut. Hartford, CT. Available for purchase at the DEEP Store.