Bright silver sides, white belly, darker bluish green
back and head
Sockeye salmon, also known as Reds, are an excellent species of sportfish as well a tasty Alaskan treat. A hooked sockeye puts up a feisty fight, readily leaping from the water and giving fishermen a run for their money.
Average 6 – 10 lbs, Up to 15 lbs
Cast and retrieve with flies and tackle, drifting eggs, dip netting, ocean trolling
|Gear:||Medium-action spinning and fly rods|
|Range:||Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, Southcentral, Southeast|
|Season:||Peak June to September, year-round in ocean|
Orange-red flesh, excellent smoked or canned
|Record:||16 lbs, Kenai River, by Chuck Leach, 1974|
Prior to spawning, sockeye are a shiny greenish blue on the top of the head and their back, bright silver on the sides, and white on the belly. Adults may carry small black dots on their backs, while juveniles may have dark marks on their sides.
When late in the spawning run, all sockeyes have a bright red body with a dark-green head. The skeletal structure of males transforms into a humped back while their jaws become hooked and elongated. Their teeth also begin to protrude from their twisted snout. The upper jaw of both sexes turns a greenish color and the lower jaw contrasts in white.
The largest populations of sockeye are found in the Bristol Bay area of southwestern Alaska, including Kodiak Island. Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound are also well known for sockeye. Salmon streams along the Alaska Peninsula, Kenai Peninsula, Southcentral and eastern panhandle will almost always have an annual run of sockeye. Sockeye populations have had an encouraging hand from hatcheries in some areas, such as the Copper River and Kasilof River on the Kenai Peninsula.
Young sockeyes in freshwater mainly eat zooplankton, benthic amphipods and insects. Once in the ocean, they continue to eat zooplankton, but add crustacean larvae to their diet. As they become larger, they will prey on small fishes and sometimes squid. Upon entering fresh water to spawn, salmon stop feeding entirely.
Working a stream by casting and retrieving with spinning or fly rods is a simple and productive method. Tackle such as spinners and lures or large streamers or Coho flies work, as well as drifting eggs. Dip netting, which involves wading waist deep into the current with a large net, is one quick way to fill the freezer. But be sure to consult the regulations before doing so.
Like other salmon, sockeyes are anadromous. Annual spawning runs of sockeye occur every summer in many of Alaska’s rivers and streams. Although actual spawning takes place in rivers or streams, the ones most favored by sockeyes are those that are interconnected with lakes. Females, which can carry between 2,000 and 4,500 eggs choose the exact spawning grounds by digging a redd with her tail. She deposits the eggs while a male, possibly more than one, fertilizes them. The female then hides the eggs beneath a layer of gravel. The sockeyes, weakened by their journey and exposure to freshwater, die soon after spawning.
The eggs hatch in the winter and the young sockeyes, called alevins, stay hidden beneath the gravel and subsist from their still attached egg sacs. By spring, the fry move from the gravel into the shallow areas of the stream or river. A young sockeye may stay in fresh water for one to three years before migrating to sea, at which time they are called smolts. At this stage they will still only weigh a few ounces.
Once in the ocean, the salmon grown rapidly and can reach four to eight pounds within two to four years. Juvenile males that only spend one year at sea before returning to freshwater to spawn are called jacks. However, most sockeye will wait longer (usually two to four years) before returning to their native streams to spawn.
Some sockeye populations have been recorded as staying in fresh water indefinitely. The fish grow at a slower rate than their nomad counterparts; rarely spanning larger than 14 inches. In many places they are known as “kokanee.”
Fish Alaska Magazine
|More Fish Species|
|Fish Alaska Magazine
We are proud to be owned and operated by Alaskans, in Alaska. Fish Alaska Magazine is a full color glossy printing published ten times yearly.
P.O. Box 113403
© by Fish Alaska Magazine, all rights reserved. Photos and written materials may not be distributed or used without permission.