A kokanee salmon giveaway in Dolores that was nearly canceled because of a small spawn was saved at the last minute Thursday when a school of 250 to 300 salmon swam up the Dolores River to a collection site.
“It was good timing. Now there will be enough,” said Pete Deren, a fish technician with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. At 12 to 13 inches long, the salmon were larger than in recent years, he said.
About 50 people turned up with buckets, coolers and plastic bags to receive the fish at Joe Rowell Park in Dolores. A Colorado fishing license was required.
CPW gave away about 700 kokanee, with each person getting 10 to 15 free fish.
Kelli Valerio, of Cortez, attended for the first time with her two boys.
“It was a slow fishing year on the lake, so this kind of makes up for it,” she said. The preferred way to cook kokanee is to smoke them.
When McPhee is really full like this year, the fish are more dispersed and harder to catch, said John Hernandez.
“It’s wonderful. You can’t beat fresh fish straight out of the river,” he said. “Once you smoke them, you’re ready to make fish tacos or sushi rolls.”
Instead of spawning naturally in gravel beds, these kokanee are spawned by CPW technicians at the Dolores River State Wildlife Area, on Colorado Highway 145 northeast of Dolores.
They return to the site where they were released as fingerlings after maturing for up to four years in McPhee.
When spawning, they are supposed to run up a canal from the river called “raceway” to a spawning station where female eggs are harvested and fertilized.
Sometimes the spawning station is moved to the main river channel if the school decides not to go up the raceway, said Jim White, aquatic biologist. About 250,000 fertilized eggs were harvested and will be raised at the CPW fish hatchery in Durango.
Lake Nighthorse, west of Durango, also has a kokanee spawn and harvest that is given away to the public on Nov. 1, 8 and 15. Gates open at 2 p.m. and the giveaway starts at 3 p.m.