We finally had a couple of days of rain - some of the region really
was slammed with rain and there is some flooding. The rain held
off too long here, and our fall salmon run, Chum or dog salmon,
really suffered. If there aren't large enough numbers of salmon who
do spawn there won't be a return run of their offspring in four years.
My husband, JC, and I made a couple of trips down to Chico Creek
toward the end of last week. It's only a half-hour run. We had
reports the salmon were finally able to make it up the creek. When
we arrived the day before we planned to fish, (a little scouting trip),
we were astonished to see the huge differences in what had become
our favorite fall place to play with the salmon.
Two years ago I reported there had been a big change in the
stream itself, and our friend Al Roberts had reported the situation
to the proper county authorities. The county came in and fixed the
culvert (it looks like a bridge) so the salmon could make the jump
to go upstream where they spawn.
The difference this year was a big storm which took out most
of the big trees along the stream. Again the country came in,
removed some of the debris from the stream itself, repaired the
stream bank, and placed some rocks in the stream to slow down
the water flow. If they hadn't done that, the whole stream would
have been gouged out, along with the banks. A real mess. I missed
the way it used to be and the way it looked, but everything
I mentioned the salmon really suffered. Here's the problem. When
there just isn't enough water for the fish to make the upstream spawning
run, they hang off the main part of the estuary in waiting for the water in
the creek to get deep enough. Salmon have an incredible sense of smell
which allows them to travel thousands of miles to the ocean and back to
their natal stream. They can 'smell' when there is enough water to make
the spawning run. The longer they have to wait before making the run,
the more they begin to break down. Our local salmon are not like
Atlantic salmon. They make one spawning run and die. In fact, most
do not eat once they leave the main saltwater (ocean). Some experts
feel once the biological urge to spawn hits the eating urge is gone.
In a normal year the local salmon run starts about Halloween.
This year it was 10 to 14 days late. For whatever reasons, this
year we have a large number of what we call 'ghost' fish. Salmon
who are deteriorating to the point they have parts which have
turned white. I don't know if it is just a part of the dying process
or if it is a fungus. Whatever the cause, half or more of the salmon
we saw the two times we were at Chico were ghost fish.
I know some were in good enough shape to make it upstream
to spawn. We saw a good number upstream ourselves. I know
once the fish have spawned, as they are dying some do sort of
float/swim back downstream. Some of the dead float back
downstream as well. The smell can get pretty ripe. The good
news is that the dead fish all go back into the ecosystem and
furnish the spawn of the next generation food. Of course other
parts of nature benefit from the dead salmon as well.
The salmon, spawning salmon and ghost salmon, are all part of
the circle of life. I personally wish our salmon didn't die after
spawning, but I wasn't the one in charge of that decision. Well
above my pay grade as they say.
Standing out in the rain, (very comfortable thank you in our Chota
rain gear, including the neat hood which moves with you) watching
out toward the bigger water, hoping to see a large pod of fish coming
in, I couldn't help think of the marvel I was part of. From where I was
standing at that moment, I couldn't see another person. I could just
as well been the only person waiting and watching for the returning salmon.
We stuck around for another hour or so to see if any more
salmon would come in on the rising tide. No luck.
I don't know if we'll make another attempt this season. If we
do it will probably be an hour or so just before dark, some
years that had been a big winner. We'll check the tides and
see if we have a match.
Regardless, I'm really grateful to have the opportunity to fish
for these amazing creatures. The history of salmon is longer
than ours. Once you've caught one you can be hooked too.
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