Annual salmon watching is now on the fall agenda

Early and continuing rains in October have increased streamflows and brought coho and chum salmon into their spawning territories ahead of schedule this year.

Dickerson Creek
Dickerson Creek is undergoing restoration at the new bridge on Taylor Road. // Photo: Dunagan

I was out and about today, taking a look at some of the streams in Central Kitsap. I couldn’t pass up the chance to enjoy the sunny and warm weather, and I was pleased to encounter a lot of other folks doing the same thing. Adults of all ages, some with children, were out looking for the elusive salmon. That’s not something I ever saw 10 years ago while making my rounds to public salmon-viewing spots.

I believe the growing interest in salmon may result from ongoing promotions of salmon watching by governmental and volunteer organizations, as well as the news media. Why shouldn’t we go out to watch salmon swimming upstream and possibly, if one is lucky, catch a glimpse of spawning behaviors? After all, we live in one of the best areas for this enjoyable pastime.

On Saturday, so-called “salmon tours” are planned at six locations in Kitsap County. For specific locations and other details, check out reporter Tristan Baurick’s story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

Dickerson Creek
Since Oct. 1, streamflows in Chico Creek have outpaced the average flow for the stream.
Graph: Kitsap Public Utility District

The weather forecast issued this afternoon by the National Weather Service calls for sunny weather tomorrow (Friday) with a slowly moving weather system coming in Friday night through Saturday, bringing a few on-and-off showers.

Perhaps the lack of rain today and tomorrow will slow up the streams a little and improve salmon viewing on Saturday, when several hundred people are expected to visit the six salmon-viewing sites where biologists and trained volunteers will talk salmon with the visitors.

While the ongoing, gentle rains are ideal for the migration of adult salmon and the survival of their offspring, most local streams are a little high right now for the best salmon viewing. The fish may be swimming too deep for people to easily see them in the murky water. My suggestion during high flows is to find an area of the stream with gravel, stand still and be patient while looking for dark shadows of salmon passing through.

A few days of dry weather will drop the streamflows for better viewing, so if things don’t work out well for Saturday’s viewing, you can come back to most of these salmon-viewing locations later on your own.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the act of salmon viewing gets a little more difficult each time the county or other government agency improves salmon passage. I realize that these improvements are good for the salmon, so a little more difficulty for salmon-watchers is a sacrifice we will have to make.

A case in point is the new bridge on Taylor Road, off Northlake Way. That has long been a good viewing spot on my map of salmon-viewing locations, because the fish would tend to pile up there before going through a culvert under the road. It is still a good viewing spot, as I determined today, but you are less likely to see a cluster of fish struggling to make it through.

Another potential viewing spot might be the new Bucklin Hill bridge over the Clear Creek estuary in Silverdale. I haven’t had a chance to figure out if a specific tidal level is conducive to both salmon passage and being able to spot fish in the water. If anybody has suggestions for watching salmon in Clear Creek, please let me know.

I was encouraged by a conversation I had this morning with Jon Oleyar, salmon biologist for the Suquamish Tribe who surveys all the major salmon streams on the eastern side of the Kitsap Peninsula. Jon reports that the rains have allowed salmon — both coho and chum — to already make it into the upper reaches of most streams.

Jon, who is an expert at spotting salmon, also is having a little trouble seeing the fish in these high flows, and he does not have a good count of fish in any stream at this point.

“Normally, we don’t start seeing many fish until about Halloween,” he said. “But this year, we got the wettest October on record, and we are getting fish throughout the system. Last Thursday, they were up to Lost and Wildcat creeks and Kitsap and Dickerson creeks.”

Those streams are all part of the Chico Creek system, the most productive chum salmon stream on the Kitsap Peninsula, a stream that also produces a fair number of coho when conditions are right. Jon told me that last year was the worst he has ever seen for coho, and this year may be just the opposite.

“This is one of the most numerous years for coho returns,” he said. “2001 was the last time I saw this many coho in and around our area.”

Unlike chum, which hatch and soon head out into Puget Sound, coho spend the following summer and winter in freshwater streams and ponds. So it is important to have adequate flows in summer without flooding in winter. Given the ongoing development of Kitsap County with limited stormwater controls, it is no wonder that coho populations are struggling in streams that were historically suited perfectly to their life cycles.

We can hope that ongoing stormwater improvements and habitat restoration will allow coho to return to more of our local streams.

2 thoughts on “Annual salmon watching is now on the fall agenda

  1. Loved in Silverdale 3 years now and every year we have seen salmon on clear creek where it passes ridgetop. From ridgetop walk along the trail (the levin way side)towards dyes inlets and after about 50 yards there is an area where you can walk very close to the stream. This area has a gravel bottom like mentioned. The fish tend to hang out under the overhanging trees. When you get close to the stream be ready because they dash away when they see you.

  2. ps-Helped free a huge coho from a beaver dam in Clear creek, behind All Star lanes, where the foot bridge crosses the creek. Happened about a month ago.

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