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Kokanee salmon will be given away at McPhee and Nighthorse lakes

The Dellinger family, of Cortez, had fun collecting free kokanee salmon at Joe Rowell Park in Dolores last year. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Strong salmon run recorded on Dolores River; arrive early in line and bring a bucket or cooler

Kokanee salmon will be given away to the public in Dolores and Durango this fall.

Participants of the giveaway must hold a valid Colorado fishing license. Youths up to age 4 may receive kokanee if accompanied by a license-holding adult.

On Oct. 27, Nov. 3, and Nov. 10 kokanee will be given away at Joe Rowell Park in Dolores at 3 p.m.

Participants are encouraged to arrive early to get in line for the popular event.

On Nov. 4, 11 and 18, kokanee will be given away in the Lake Nighthorse parking lot about 2 p.m.

Jim White, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said staff have collected more than 1,000 salmon for the giveaway in Dolores.

“The fish really look good, 14 to 16 inches in length,” he said.

Ironically, lower water years in McPhee Reservoir can create good feeding conditions for kokanee, White said. When vegetation growing on the lake bed gets inundated, it creates abundant nutrients for fish.

Also decent monsoonal rains this year raised levels of the Dolores River, which provided good connectivity to upstream spawning areas from the lake.

“The kokanee salmon public giveaways are subject to fish availability,” White said. “The number of fish given away will depend on how many fish we are able to spawn that week and how many people are in line prior to the start of the giveaway, as we try to split the fish evenly among participants. It is first-come, first-served. Please bring your own fish containers, and don’t show up late.”

A tub of kokanee salmon is ready to be distributed at a previous Dolores salmon giveaway.

People interested in receiving kokanee should bring their own small cooler or other container.

Kokanee are a freshwater, landlocked Pacific sockeye salmon. Though not a native fish to Colorado, they are well suited to Colorado’s large reservoirs.

Those interested in the Dolores or Lake Nighthorse giveaways may call (970) 247-0855 for more information.

Anglers are reminded that snagging kokanee at Lake Nighthorse is prohibited. Those fishing at the reservoir must stay at least 100 yards from the salmon-spawning platform.

For more information on kokanee salmon snagging opportunities in Colorado as well as the giveaway days, see the 2022 Kokanee Regulations brochure.