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Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye salmon

photo courtesy US Fish & Wildlife

Sockeye Salmon

Oncorhynchus nerka

Immature sockeye salmon have silvery sides and bellies and greenish-blue backs. As they mature, they turn bright red. The males’ heads become olive-green. The upper jaw and snout turns black. The lower jaw turns light gray. Most Columbia River sockeye adults are 6-8 lbs.

Most sockeye return from the ocean as four-year-olds, but some return as young as three or as old as eight. All require a lake at the headwaters of their chosen stream in which to rear. The adults pass through the lake to smaller, tributary streams where the females dig their redds. The female releases an average of 3,500 eggs. After hatching in early spring, the young fish move immediately into the lake. Most will spend a full year there before migrating to the ocean.

Perhaps the most famous lake where sockeye return is Redfish Lake in Idaho. The lake got its name from the red color of the returning sockeye salmon. To get to the lake, sockeye swim a journey of 897 miles and climb over 6,500 feet in elevation.

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