As you read this, thousands of salmon are swimming up the Columbia River, trying to make it home to North Central Washington.
I talked to our friends at Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group (CCFEG), a local group that works to improve conditions for native fish, about fun ways kids can get out, experiencing this amazing migration with their families.
Many people know that salmon begin their lives in freshwater rivers and streams, then migrate to the ocean.
While they are in the ocean, their job is to eat and grow while not ending up as a tasty meal for something else. Eventually, they use their sense of smell to return to freshwater streams — usually the exact same stream where they began life — to mate and lay their eggs, or spawn.
Why do some salmon turn red? While at sea, they eat crustaceans that contain carotenoids, the same thing that makes carrots orange and flamingos pink.
When salmon finally reach their spawning grounds, females build nests, called “redds,” by using their tails to move gravel at the bottom of a stream. Look for salmon redds in relatively shallow, fast-moving water. The redd will be a spot where the gravel looks brighter than the rest. This is because the female has removed the algae that was growing on the rocks while building her redd.
Salmon face many challenges to survival, from predators, to rising water temperatures, to loss of healthy land next to rivers and streams, to navigating dams and much more. One easy, thing families can do is be mindful while tubing or paddling during salmon spawning season. One misplaced foot or paddle might destroy a whole redd, which can include 500-1000 eggs. Using deeper sections of the river instead of shallow stretches like Icicle Creek and obeying all closure signs can help protect the future of our salmon.
Late summer and early fall is the prime time of year to watch salmon make their way up our rivers to spawn. To see bright red sockeye salmon, the best time of year is the last two weeks of September. Head upriver from Lake Wenatchee along White River Road to peek over the bridge over the Napeequa River, just before Tall Timber Ranch.
Watch summer chinook right now by parking next to the road along Highway 2 in Tumwater Canyon and peeking in the pools in the Wenatchee River. The fish are “holding” in slower-moving pools in the Wenatchee River while waiting for spawning to begin. In October, watch them build their redds and spawn in the Wenatchee River, Nason Creek or along the Entiat River.
Salmon Fest, at the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery, has a free family day THIS SATURDAY. Hands-on “edutainment” about salmon keeps kids entertained all day. Learn more at salmonfest.org.
For a field trip to see sockeye spawning in the White River, join the Land Trust on its White River Salmon Tour THIS SUNDAY. RSVPs are required. Sign up at cdlandtrust.org. Kids are welcome!
Jennifer Herdmann from CCFEG — Wenatchee third graders may know her as “Salmon Lady,” a title she holds proudly — let me know that families can view Chinook and other native fish at a newly set-up tank at the Wenatchee Public Library. The library also has a great variety of salmon information and salmon-themed books.
You can also catch the Salmon Lady at the Leavenworth Community Farmers Market on Thursday, Sept. 27 at the CCFEG info booth. Enjoy a free salmon activity and take home a salmon craft!
Hillary Clark, membership and education coordinator for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, writes about low-cost and easy ways for families to spend quality time outside with their kids. For more ways to get outside with your children, visit www.cdlandtrust.org/ whats-new/events.