Check our Monthly Deal
PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!
Most Popular Rods
40' Telescopic Pole
40' Telescopic Pole
18' 5.4m Spinning Rod 98% Carbon
18' Spinning Rod
14' 3.9m Telescopic Tenkara rod 98% Carbon
Tenkara rod Wakata
18' 5.4m Telescopic Surf Custing rod 99% Carbon
5.4m Surf Rod
43.3' 13m Telescopic Pole 98% Carbon
43' Telescopic Pole
Official PayPal Seal

Sockeye Salmon fish identification, its habitats, characteristics, fishing methods.

Sockeye salmon is an anadromous species of salmon found in the Pacific Ocean. The same species when it occurs in landlocked bodies of water is called the
Kokanee. It is the third most common species of Pacific salmon, after Pink Salmon and Chum Salmon. Its current range is as far south as the Columbia River in the eastern Pacific and northern Hokkaido Island in Japan in the western Pacific, and as far north as Bathurst Inlet in the Canadian Arctic in the east and the Anadyr River in Siberia in the west. Landlocked populations occur in the Yukon Territory and British Columbia in Canada, and in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, New York, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming in the United States.
    The sockeye is one of the most commercially important Pacific salmons; the kokanee is primarily a sport fish but also makes excellent food and in some areas well regarded as food for large trout. Marketed fresh, dried or salted, smoked, canned, and frozen; eaten steamed, fried, broiled, microwaved, and baked. Aboriginal people considered sockeye salmon to be an important food source and either ate them fresh or dried them for winter use. Today sockeye salmon support one of the most important commercial fisheries on the Pacific coast of North America, are increasingly sought after in recreational fisheries, and remain an important mainstay of many subsistence users.

Sockeye Salmon Fishing The Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), from Russian НЕРКА, often referred to as Red or Blueback salmon, ranges south as far as the Klamath River in California and northern Hokkaido in Japan, to as far north as far as Bathurst Inlet in the Canadian Arctic and the Anadyr River in Siberia.

    There are two forms of Sockeye Salmon known, the anadromous form known as the sockeye and the landlocked form (with a much smaller maximum size) known as the Kokanee. Upon emergence from gravel, fry at first tends to avoid light, hiding during the day and emerging at night. In some populations, sockeye fry go to the sea during their first summer but most spend 1 or 2 (rarely 3 or 4) years in a lake before migrating. In a few streams of the Copper River drainage in Alaska, young sockeye stay in the stream. Once in the lake, the young spend a few weeks inshore, feeding largely on ostracods, cladocerans and insect larvae. The fish then become pelagic and move offshore, where they feed on plankton in the upper 20 m or so.
    Seaward migration follows with the young individuals first staying fairly close to shore, feeding mainly on zooplankton, but also on small fishes and insects. With growth, they head out to sea and fish become important in the diet. Kokanee are confined to lake-stream systems, and most of its life is spent in the lake. They feed mainly on plankton, but also take insects and bottom organisms. Kokanee, wherever they are native, have been derived from anadromous populations, and each kokanee population apparently has evolved independently from a particular sockeye run. Offspring of kokanee occasionally become anadromous, and sockeye offspring occasionally remain in freshwater. Lifespan of the kokanee varies from 2 to 7 years in different stocks.
Back to top


Sockeye salmon have an elongated, torpedo shaped body, that is fusiform, streamlined, laterally compressed, with an adipose fin, and a bluntly pointed snout. The gill rankers located just behind the head are long and closely spaced. Both the sockeye and the kokanee are distinguished by their fine, serrated gill rakers on the first arch that number between 30 and 40, and by its lack of definite spot on the back and tail. Their body is is depth moderate, slightly deeper in breeding males. Head bluntly pointed, conical, eye rather small, position variable with sex and condition; snout rather pointed. They have straight lateral line. Their pelvic fins with axillary process and their caudal emarginate.

Distinguish characteristics

  • 11 16 dorsal soft rays
  • 13 18 anal soft rays
  • 28 - 40 long, slender gill rakers on the first gill arch
  • Straight lateral line
  • Some small black speckling on the back
  • Large spots are absent
  • Almost toothless mouth
  • Large scales
  • Metallic green blue on top of their head and back
  • White or silvery belly
  • The meat is a ruby red color
Sockeye Salmon identification
Sockeye salmon coloration changes as it migrates from saltwater to freshwater in preparation for spawning. Pre-spawning fish are dark steel blue to greenish blue on the head and back, silvery on the sides and white to silvery on the belly, with uniform, shiny skin; no definite spots on the back, although some individuals may have dark speckling and irregular marks on the dorsal fin. At spawning, fish turn to a brilliant red, the head of the males becomes bright to olive green, with black on the snout and upper whitish jaw; the adipose and anal fins turn red and the paired fins and tail generally become grayish to green or dark.
    Breeding males develop a humped back and elongated, hooked jaws filled with sharp caniniform teeth. Females may have green and yellow marks or stains but generally they are less brilliantly colored than males. Various populations may show less brilliant colors, and a few turn dull green to yellowish, with little if any red.
Sockeye Salmon Spawning Freshwater stage

Spawning Phase Distinguishing characteristics:

  • Males back and sides are bright red to dirty red-gray, head is bright to olive green, snout and upper whitish jaw is black, tail is green to black
  • Females are red above lateral line, but colors not as bright
  • Males develop a large dorsal hump
  • Males develop typical hooked snout and large canine-like teeth
  • NO distinct spots on back or tail fin

    Red salmon are a dark steel blue to greenish blue on top of their head and back. They have very small black freckles or none at all, but they don't have the highly visible spots found on the majority of salmon species. Reds have larger scales in proportion to their size than other salmon. A lot of people consider reds to be the best tasting salmon with a meat ruby red color. Large males sometimes develop dark crimson stripes down their sides. Some individuals may turn a dirty brown, pale red, or even purplish to almost black. Males develop a slight hump on their back and a tooth-filled kype. Females keep their normal shape and don't become as colorful as the males. Juveniles, while in fresh water, have the same general coloration as immature sockeye salmon in the ocean, but are less iridescent. Juveniles also have dark, oval parr marks on their sides. These parr marks are short-less than the diameter of the eye-and rarely extend below the lateral line.
    Sockeye salmon can be distinguished from Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, and Pink Salmon by the lack of large, black spots and from Chum Salmon by the number and shape of gill rakers on the first gill arch. Sockeye salmon have 28 to 40 long, slender, rough or serrated closely set rakers on the first arch. Chum salmon have 19 to 26 short, stout, smooth rakers.
    When returning to coastal waters to spawn, reds range in size from only 2-3 lbs as long as 84cm (33 in) and up to 16 lbs or more. Big reds in most places will be between 10-12 lbs. Average fish are between 5-8 pounds.
Back to top


Sockeye salmon rely on stream and lake habitats as well as the offshore waters of the Pacific Ocean during their lifecycle.
    Sockeye Salmon, unlike the other species of Pacific Salmon, feed almost exclusively on plankton. They are able to do this as a result of their many gill rakers, which strain the plankton from the water. It is speculated that this diet is the reason for the striking hue of their flesh, as well as their very low concentration of methyl mercury. They also tend to feed on small aquatic organisms such as shrimp.
    While in fresh water, juvenile sockeye salmon feed mainly upon zooplankton (such as ostracods, cladocerans, and copepods), benthic amphipods, and insects. In the ocean, sockeye salmon continue to feed upon zooplankton (such as copepods, euphausids, ostracods, and crustacean larvae), but also prey upon larval and small adult fishes (such as sand lance), and occasionally squid. Sockeye Salmon Fry

Kokanee Salmon

Kokanee Salmon
The landlocked version of the sockeye salmon is kokanee. Because they never migrate out to the ocean to feed, kokanee are often much smaller than sockeye. However, other than their size, kokanee have very similar identifying characteristics as sockeye. The anal fin has 13 to 17 rays; its base is longer than the base of the dorsal fin. There are 29 to 40 gill rakers on the first arch.
In males, back and sides are bright red to dirty red-gray, head is bright to olive green, tail is green to black. In females, colors not as bright, but red above lateral line. Possible spots on back or tail fin. Males have a large dorsal hump. Range in length from 10-18 inches, 3 to 5 pounds but 1-pounders are most common.
    Most kokanee live in a lake for most of their lives, so you can usually see them spawning near the edge of a lake or in a small tributary that feeds into a lake. Kokanee are strictly plankton feeders and they can rapidly overpopulate, resulting in large numbers of stunted fish. They either run upstream from their lake habitat or spawn along the lake shorelines in the fall. They spawn over loose rubble, gravel, and sand in lower portions of tributary streams or along lake shores. Most kokanee reach sexual maturity in their fourth year of life and they then undergo a dramatic transformation prior to spawning. The silvery specimen seen here becomes a smooth-skinned, red-colored spawning fish with large hooked jaws and teeth on the males. They spawn in pairs during November-December. Eggs are laid in redds and hatch in 110 days at 43F. Fry emerge in spring and enter the lake.All the adults die after spawning, making for a tremendous food source for bald eagles, grizzly bears, and other animals. Kokanee are very sensitive to water temperature and school in lakes at a certain depth. Once located, they are readily caught and provide excellent sport as well as table fare.
Back to top


Sockeye salmon are anadromous: they live in the sea and enter freshwater systems to spawn. After hatching, juvenile sockeye salmon, known as fry, may spend up to four years in fresh water before migrating to sea as silvery smolt weighing only a few ounces. They grow quickly in the sea, usually reaching a size of 4 to 8 pounds after one to four years. Like all Pacific salmon, sockeye salmon die within a few weeks after spawning.

    Sockeye salmon spawn mostly in streams having lakes in their watershed. Mature sockeye salmon travel thousands of miles from ocean feeding areas to spawn in the same freshwater system where they were born. The fish that migrate spend from one to four years in the salt water, and thus are four to six years old when they return to spawn in summer (July-August). Migration back to the home river is thought to be done using the characteristic smell of the stream, and possibly the sun. Sockeye Salmon Spawning Run

    Maturing sockeye salmon return to freshwater systems from the ocean during the summer months, and most populations show little variation in their arrival time on the spawning grounds from year to year. Freshwater systems with lakes produce the greatest number of sockeye salmon. Spawning usually occurs in rivers, streams, and upwelling areas along lake beaches. The female selects the spawning site, digs a nest (redd) with her tail, and deposits eggs in the downstream portion of the redd as one or more males swim beside her and fertilize the eggs as they are extruded. After each spawning act, the female covers the eggs by dislodging gravel at the upstream end of the redd with her tail. A female usually deposits about five batches of eggs in a redd. Depending upon her size, a female produces from 2,000 to 4,500 eggs.
Sockeye Salmon Larvae     Eggs hatch during the winter, after 55-170 days (the period depends on water temperature) of eggs deposited. Alevins, the young sac-fry, 19-24 mm in length, weighing 110-150 mg, remain in the gravel, living off the material stored in their yolk sacs, until early spring.

    In May-June they emerge from the gravel as fry and move into rearing areas. Young fish have spots on the body. Their adipose fin is transparent, not pigmented. They have from 30 to 40 long, frequent, thin gill rakers, tapered at the ends. Above the base of the anal fin there is an often a chaotic series of small, dense or very rare pigmented spots. The adjacent lateral spots on a back are discordant and vary in size. Their sides are with a silvery or golden sheen. Sockeye Salmon Fry

Sockeye Salmon Smolt In systems with lakes, juveniles may spend 1 to 3 years in fresh water before migrating to the ocean in the spring as smolts. In systems without lakes, many juveniles migrate to the ocean soon after emerging from the gravel but some remains in the freshwater, forming a dwarf form.
Smolts have large eyes, small head with length less then body, transparent adipose fin. Large scales are clearly visible on the sides of the body and sometimes have a pale young fish spots. There are more than 30 thin and long gill rakers.
Back to top

Fishing Methods

    Red salmon are great fighters. They'll run, jump, and thrash wildly when hooked. They also are the least likely to bite. Fishing for red salmon in salt water is a waste of time. Even in fresh water, you often have to hit a red right in the face with your lure several times just to get it to bite. The good news is that what the reds are "in" they're often there in huge numbers of fish. Millions of red salmon come into Alaskan waters each year. The most popular spot to fish for reds is the Russian River where is flows into the Kenai. The Kenai River is glacier fed and a cloudy green color, but in the stream you can actually see the fish, especially with Polarized Sunglasses and you can make your casts to specific fish.
    When fishing for reds in the Kenai River, with its powerful flow of water, minimum 20 lbs line on a medium to medium-heavy action rod is a good choice. In the smaller streams, 8 to 10 foot medium action rod with 12 pound line.
    Sockeye salmon are the preferred species for canning due to the rich orange-red color of their flesh. Today, however, more than half of the sockeye salmon catch is sold frozen rather than canned. Canned sockeye salmon is marketed primarily in the United Kingdom and the United States while most frozen sockeye salmon is purchased by Japan. Sockeye salmon roe is also valuable. It is salted and marketed in Japan.
    There is also a growing sport fishery for sockeye salmon throughout the state. Probably the best known sport fishery with the greatest participation occurs during the return of sockeye salmon to the Russian River on the Kenai Peninsula. Other popular areas include the Kasilof River on the Kenai Peninsula as well as the various river systems within Bristol Bay.
    Subsistence users harvest sockeye salmon in many areas of the state. The greatest subsistence harvest of sockeye salmon probably occurs in the Bristol Bay area where participants use set gillnets. In other areas of the state, sockeye salmon may be taken for subsistence use in fishwheels. Most of the subsistence harvest consists of prespawning sockeye salmon, but a relatively small number of postspawning sockeye salmon are also taken. Personal use fisheries have also been established to make use of any sockeye salmon surplus to spawning needs, subsistence uses, and commercial and sport harvests. Personal use fisheries have occurred in Bristol Bay, where participants use set gillnets, as well as in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, where participants also use dip nets.
Back to top
Daiwa Authorized Distributor
Deal of the Month
Store Special
Special Discount
On most models when you pay by check or money order
Our rods in Action
New Arrivals
Newly Added Items
New Products
added every week
|| Home || Site Map || Help || About Us || Contact Us ||
Copyright© 2004-2013 All Fishing Guide. All rights reserved.