Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Students ride the wind during salmon kayak tour

November 8th, 2012 by cdunagan

When 60 students from Central Kitsap High School took off in double kayaks to look for jumping salmon, they had no idea how the changing weather would make the trip more exciting.

Bill Wilson, who teaches environmental science, organized Tuesday’s trip on Dyes Inlet near Silverdale. Lead guide Spring Courtright of Olympic Outdoor Center shares the story in her words.

Reminder: Free stream tours from land are scheduled for Saturday. See the story I wrote for Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Wind pushes the kayaks along, as 60 Central Kitsap High School students return to Silverdale Tuesday after watching jumping salmon. / Photos by Spring Courtright

By Spring Courtright
Program Director, Olympic Outdoor Center

At 9 a.m. on election day, anyone peering through the fog at Silverdale Waterfront Park would have seen 35 bright kayaks lined up on the beach and 60 high school students preparing to paddle.

Central Kitsap High School environmental science students study salmon in class, then are given the option to paddle with jumping salmon on an annual Salmon Kayak Tour with the Olympic Outdoor Center (OOC). For the last two years, 60 students have jumped on the opportunity.

This trip started about 10 years ago with about half that number of students. I have been one of the lead guides for nearly all of these tours. It’s always an adventure, but this year was one of the more memorable trips because of the beautiful clouds and quick change in weather.

Bill Wilson, the enthusiastic science teacher who puts the school trip together, walks with the students down from the high school to the park, where they meet the kayak guides. At the park, the students get outfitted in lifejackets and learn basic paddle strokes before choosing which colorful double kayak they’re going to paddle.

After getting fitted in their kayaks, Bill, the students and the OOC guides paddle about 2.25 miles to Chico Creek, where we watch for jumping salmon while eating lunch in our kayaks. Jumping fish never cease to elicit many exclamations of “WOW!” and “Did you SEE that?!” It never fails to remind me of a fireworks show.

This year, the fog was so thick upon launching that we could barely see an eighth of a mile to the shore, but it soon burned off to reveal a bright blue sky with remarkable, billowing clouds.

The paddle to the creek was pleasant, with no wind. We spotted a few harbor seals and chum salmon. When I asked how things were going as the students paddled, they said things such as, “I’m tired, but this is fun!”

Arriving at the mouth of Chico Creek, there weren’t many jumping salmon at first, as a fleet of kayaks often spooks them. Once we all stopped paddling to eat our lunches, the fish started jumping. I found a dead chum salmon and decided to haul it onto my kayak for us all to get a closer look. It was easy to see why the chum’s nickname is “dog salmon,” because of their surprisingly large teeth they grow during spawning season. I offered it up for a sushi lunch, but I had no takers.

Forrest Wells, one of OOC’s guides, had everyone raft up, connecting side by side. He then talked about the five types of salmon found in the Northwest: chum, pink (or humpback), coho (or silver) chinook (or king) and sockeye. These students were so knowledgeable that they could likely teach fisherman Forrest a thing or two.

After the discussion, Forrest demonstrated how to play “Log Jam,” a game we usually reserve for summer trips, but Forrest was feeling feisty this day. In this game, a paddler walks across the front of the kayaks, hoping not to fall into the cold water. It was a roaring success and everyone’s face had a wide grin. A couple daring students successfully took the challenge before it was time to head back.

When we started paddling back, it seemed as if it were a completely different day. The wind had picked up — from behind us, thankfully, as it was a nice boost — and the waves were one to two feet high!

Megan Stephenson paddles back to Silverdale from Chico Creek.

It was an exciting paddle, with many squeals of delight and nervousness as the wind pushed us along and the waves crashed over the sides of our kayaks.

One pair of students had decided to bring their own double kayak, which rode lower in the water than the kayaks we provided. The two paddlers found themselves in the water! Our guides Jake and Forrest towed them and their boat the short distance to shore, put them in some dry clothes and guided them onward.

It was also an exciting landing back at the park. Riding two-foot waves, we surfed into shore. OOC guides put their muscles into catching the fronts of the kayaks and hauling them up the beach to keep paddlers as dry as possible.

Once on shore, students found themselves chilly and ready to head back to school. I gave a big thank-you to everyone and said goodbye before they started their walk back. This will certainly be a Salmon Tour to remember!

Spring will be leading other Salmon Kayak Tours in Miller Bay (between Kingston and Suquamish) the next two Saturdays. Private group tours are available any day before Thanksgiving. For information, go to the Olympic Outdoor Center website or call (360) 297-4659.

Kitsap Sun reporter Brynn Grimley took the Miller Bay trip last year and reported about it on Oct. 15, 2011.

Forrest Wells, a guide for Olympic Outdoor Center, demonstrates the game “Log Jam,” in which paddlers walk across rafted kayaks.

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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