Alaska Sockeye Salmon Fact Sheet

Orvis guide Kris Atkins nets sockeye salmon

Names

Common Name: Sockeye
Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
Other Names: Red Salmon or Blueback

Sockeye Salmon Description

Color & Markings:
Sea going Sockeye (and those that have recently entered rivers to spawn), have iridescent silvery sides and a white belly. Their backs are a metallic blue-green color. They may have fine, black speckling on their back, but they do not have large distinct spots.

As the fish progress farther up river, they turn bright red (hence their common name “Red”) and develop bright green heads. Males develop a hump-back and hooked jaws.

Size:
Average 8-12lbs at maturity

Distinguishing Features:

  • Salt Morphology: Dark blue-black back. No distinct spots on the back, dorsal fin or tail.
  • Spawning Colors: Brick Red to scarlet colored body with dull green head.

Sockeye Life Cycle

Boardwalk fishing guide Kris Atkins holds sockeye salmon for guest photo op
Spawning:
Sockeye spawn in freshwater drainage systems that contain one or more lakes.

Rearing:
In Alaska, Sockeye salmon eggs hatch in the winter. In the spring, fry emerge from the gravel beds and move to rearing areas where they spend 1-3 years as parr before undergoing smoltification and moving to the ocean.

Maturation:
Sockeye salmon spend 1-3 years in the ocean feeding and growing rapidly. In Alaska, Sockeye salmon drift counter clock-wise around the Gulf Alaska with the prevailing current. Once they reach maturity, they swim the thousands of miles back to their natal water sheds.

Sockeye return to spawned between June and early August. Each river usually has only one run of Sockeye Salmon, but a few rivers may have two runs (i.e. If there are multiple tributary drainages, the lower portion of the river may experience two distinct runs).

As with all Pacific Salmon, Sockeye spawn once and then die.

Sockeye Habitat

  • Fresh-water lakes, streams are the spawning and rearing grounds for Sockeye. In the ocean, juvenile fish follow the food.
  • Mature fish generally run along the edge of the river as they smell their way back to their natal waters. That said, during times of high returns, the fish can be so thick that the whole river is full bank to bank.
  • Ocean-run Sockeye are not targeted by recreational anglers.

Sockeye Diet

  • Ocean: Plankton, insects, small crustaceans, and occasionally squid and small fish.
  • Freshwater:  Sexually mature fish in the rivers do not feed.

Sockeye Distribution

In North America, Sockeye salmon range from Point Hope on the Chukchi Sea to the Klamath River drainage in Oregon and California.

Fishing

Best Fishing Dates: July

Tackle:
Fly Rod: 8 weight

NOTE: When flipping all day, the lighter weight of a fly rod is MUCH easier on your wrist and elbows. You don’t need anything fancy.

Terminal tackle:

  • Yarn or Bead – No undressed hooks!
  • “Russian River Flies” are required in “Fly Fishing Only” areas. These hooks have a maximum of 3/8” opening between the hook tip and the hook shank./li>
  • Where flies are not required a 2/0 or 3/0 hook has a better rate of hook-ups
  • LONG leader. The weight must be a minimum of 18” above the hook.
  • Spinning Rod: 10-25lb

    Sockeye Salmon Fishing Techniques

    “Flipping” or “Flossing” from a river bank.

    Other Sockeye Facts

    • Alaskan’s call Sockeye, “Reds.” If you use the term “Sockeye” we’ll know you’re from “Outside.”
    • The largest Sockeye Salmon Runs in Alaska are those river drainages that empty into Bristol Bay, the eastern-most part of the Bering sea, above the Alaska Peninsula.
    • The World Record Sockeye was 31 inches long and weighed in at 16lbs. It was caught on the Kenai River.
    • Kokanee are the land-locked version of Sockeye in the Lower 48 and Canada.

    Prince of Wales Island Specific

    • Best fishing Dates: Mid-June through July

    NOTE: Salmon fishing trips at Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge are all-inclusive. We provide all the necessary gear, tackle, bait, licenses, stamps and tags required for your fully-guided sport-fishing adventure with us. Additionally, we stay up-to-date on all fishing regulations for our area including any daily emergency orders that may affect your fishing trip, so you don’t have to.

    WARNING: In terms of regulations, Alaska is one of the most confusing places to fish. Bag limits, fishing techniques, and even bait/tackle regulations, for any given fish species (except halibut) can vary from location to location. Depending on the body of water, and what species you are fishing, regulations can even change from day to day. Always be sure to check the regulations for every day and every area you fish. You, the angler, are responsible for knowing and following all fishing regulations including any daily changes released as emergency orders. You can find the emergency orders for Prince of Wales Island here. And for the rest of Alaska, you can select your region on this map.