Sockeye and Kokanee Salmon Introduction
Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is a member of the Salmonidae family and is a Pacific Salmon. They’re both seagoing (anadromous) and also ‘freshwater only’ capable (non-anadromous). Like other Pacific Salmon they hatch from eggs that are located in the headwaters of clean, cool, gravel-based rivers and streams.
It’s known by many names with Kokanee being the most popular. Sockeye are also called red salmon, blue back salmon, wild pacific sockeye and big red fish.
Kokanee Salmon were thought to be a separate species of salmon when they’re not. You’ll find we’ve included all techniques and information for both Kokanee and Sockeye under the species of Sockeye Salmon.
What is a Kokanee?
Kokanee Salmon is Sockeye that lives it’s entire life in freshwater. There’s little distinction in DNA to differentiate Kokanee from Sockeye Salmon. They don’t migrate to the ocean to feed which generally results in a smaller fish than Sockeye.
Freshwater names for the Sockeye include Kokanee salmon, Kennerly’s salmon, Kokanee, landlocked sockeye, kickininee, little red fish and silver trout.
I hope this explanation clears up the confusion there’s been around Sockeye and Kokanee. We’ve been contacted by many anglers looking for clarification on the difference.
Ocean and Freshwater Habitats of Sockeye
These are the 3 key points you should know.
- Like all Pacific Salmon the Sockeye salmon prefer cool, crisp water in both their rivers and streams and in the ocean.
- River habitats contain gravel aggregate and are usually mountain or spring fed.
- Freshwater Kokanee also prefer cool crisp water and won’t successfully spawn in rivers and streams that are not fitting these requirements.
All Tackle Record
The all tackle record for a Sockeye Salmon is a massive 15.3 lbs/6.9 kg caught in the Kenai River in Alaska. The average size you can expect to catch is a respectable 4 to 8 lbs/1.8kg to 3.6kg.
The freshwater Kokanee is smaller in size as is usual for freshwater variants of their native seagoing cousins.
What Sockeye Eat
Sockeye Salmon and Kokanee feed on plankton, insects, crustacean larvae, various small or bait fish and squid. They’re not fussy and will eat any small fish they encounter. Click here for more specifics on what salmon eat.
Sockeye have a similar distribution to other Pacific Salmon, although their range is not nearly as expansive as the Pink Salmon. Unlike the Pink Salmon and other Pacific Species, the Sockeye cannot be found in Japan or Korea.
They have a native distribution across the northern reaches of the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic ocean and all coastal rivers and streams in that area that conform to their preferred habitat. This includes the countries of the United States, Canada and Russia. Although their distribution in Russia is very limited, only occupying a few north eastern rivers mostly in Kamchuka on the most eastern edge of Russia and the islands to the south.
They can also be found inland in the Great Lakes and the rivers of Alberta, California and Washington.
Distribution along the western coast of North America has the same limited range as in the western reaches of their distribution.
In Alaska they’ll only be found in the southern and western areas of the state with only a few populations found in the northern coast.