Prompted by stream biologist Jon Oleyar. my grandson, Kevin
Jeffries, and I visited Gorst Creek today during a break in the
As I reported in
Water Ways yesterday, Jon, who counts salmon for the Suquamish
Tribe, had observed an unusual number of coho salmon swimming
upstream in Gorst Creek.
Because of heavy rains, the creek was running high and very fast
this afternoon, and the waters were a muddy brown. In fact, the
sediment load was so heavy that we spotted only a few fish swimming
upstream. We suspected that a lot of them were hunkered down in
deep pools, waiting for the flows to decline and the stream to
become more passable.
Although we did not see a lot of fish, it was exciting to watch
coho salmon trying to jump up into an outlet pipe that discharges
water from the salmon-rearing raceways in the park. Coho, wearing
their spawning colors of red, are known as jumping fish, but these
guys were going nowhere fast. Check out the video on this page.
I’m looking forward to returning to the stream after the rains
decline and the waters clear up a little bit. The coho may or may
not be gone by then, but Jon expects that we should be able to see
chum salmon in Gorst Creek at least until Christmas.
The on-and-off rains over the past two weeks are nearly perfect
for both spawning salmon and for recharging shallow groundwater
supplies, experts say.
For October, total rainfall ranges from about 5 inches at
Hansville to 12 inches at Holly, according to rain gauges managed
by the Kitsap Public
Utility District. Fortunately, those rains have not been
delivered to us in only a few days.
The intermittent nature of October rains has allowed the streams
to maintain their flows without flooding. They’ve also allowed
infiltration into the ground without excessive runoff.
“It is the good kind of rain,” said Bob Hunter, interim manager
of Kitsap PUD. “We’ve had a couple of days when we’ve had 2-plus
inches, but we haven’t seen the streams flash.”
In other words, the streams have not risen excessively fast. Bob
attributes that to how dry the ground was before the rains began.
Soils were able to absorb much of the early rainfall before
stormwater runoff began to increase. Pauses between the rainstorms
allowed more of the water to soak into the ground.
“It just goes to show you the variability that we have around
here,” Bob told me.
October marks the beginning of the 2015 “water year.” Although
we are just a month into the start of the year, the rainfall has
been closely tracking all-time highs at some rain gauges —
including Holly, which has been monitored since 1999. (See charts
Meanwhile, the rain pattern in October was nearly perfect for
salmon, said Jon Oleyar of the Suquamish Tribe, who walks the East
Kitsap streams to count migrating salmon as they arrive.
“It seems like we’ve had storms coming in every couple of days,
so they are not right on top of each other,” Jon said. “That gives
the streams some time to recede.”
When there is not adequate flow, the salmon often wait for the
streams to rise. On the other hand, too much flow can wash salmon
eggs out of the streambed.
Last week’s rains got the chum salmon moving into most of the
East Kitsap streams, Jon told me.
“I checked Chico Creek on Wednesday, and there were almost
11,000 fish in there and going up about as far as they can get,” he
A good escapement for the Chico Creek system is between 12,000
and 15,000 chum, and there is still more than a month left —
assuming a typical timing of the run, he said. But things are
looking a little different this year, he noted, and the bulk of the
run may have arrived already.
One indication that timing could be different this year is that
Gorst Creek already has a fair number of chum salmon — perhaps 500
— yet the Gorst Creek run usually comes in later and continues well
Is it possible that all or most of the salmon runs are coming in
early? It’s a question that only time will answer.
Jon told me that he’s a bit water-logged at the moment, trying
to count fish in the rain with the streams running high.
“I’m pretty happy about it,” Jon said. “I have my fish up where
they need to be, but it’s just hard to count them right now. If
you’re a fish, this is really working for you.”
In the charts below, found on the Kitsap PUD’s website, you can
see that October’s rainfall has been tracking the record high
rainfall at these stations. Of course, the “water year” has barely
begun, so anything can happen. (Click on images to enlarge.)
This year’s return of chum salmon to Hood Canal remains on track
to break the record, coming in with four times as many fish as
predicted earlier this year.
Last week, I reported that the total run size for Hood Canal
fall chum appeared to be about 1.4 million fish, according to
computer models. See
Kitsap Sun, Oct. 30 (subscription). The modern-day record is
1.18 million, set in 2003. If conditions hold, this year’s run will
easily exceed that.
The large Hood Canal run also is expected to provide an economic
boost of some $5 million to $6 million for commercial fishers, not
including fish processors and stores that sell the fish.
The forecast models are based largely on commercial harvests.
Data collected since I wrote the story only tend to confirm the
record-breaking run, according to salmon managers. Final estimates
won’t be compiled until the end of the season.
The chum run in Central and South Puget Sound also are looking
very good. The latest data suggest that the run could reach
700,000, or nearly twice the preseason estimate and well above
Meanwhile, the large chum runs are attracting Puget Sound’s
orcas to the waters off Bainbridge Island and Seattle, as chinook
runs decline in the San Juan Islands and elsewhere. As I described
in a story on Sunday, it has been an odd year for the whales, which
may have spent most of the summer chasing chinook off the coast of
Kitsap Sun, Nov. 2 (subscription).
The large chum run also promises to provide some great viewing
opportunities for people to watch the salmon migration in their
local streams. I would direct you to the interactive salmon-viewing
map that Amy Phan and I completely revamped last year for the
Kitsap Sun’s website. The map includes videos describing salmon
streams across the Kitsap Peninsula.
Speaking of salmon-watching, everyone is invited to Saturday’s
Kitsap Salmon Tours, an annual event in which biologists talk about
the amazing salmon and their spawning rituals. One can choose to
visit one or both of the locations in Central Kitsap. For details,
check out the Kitsap
Public Utility District’s Website.
One of the locations, now named Chico Salmon Park, is undergoing
a major facelift, thanks to more than 100 hours of volunteer labor
over the past two weekends — not to mention earlier work going back
to the beginning of the year. See the Kitsap County
news release issued today.
Volunteers working on the park deserve a lot of credit for
removing blackberry vines, Scotchbroom and weeds from this
overgrown area. This property, which has Chico Creek running
through it, is going to be a wonderful park someday after native
trees and plants become established. (See
Kitsap Sun, Feb. 2, 2013)
When it comes to salmon restoration, victories often come in
small steps, one stream at a time. Never let anyone tell you that
small streams don’t count.
One small, but inspiring, stream is Cooper Creek, which drains
into the head of Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island. The little
stream saw its first return of chum salmon this year following a
long absence because of a blockage caused by a water-diversion dam.
Get the larger picture from Tad Sooter’s story in the
Only about 10 fish came back this fall, said Wayne Daley, a
biologist who assisted with the release of 15,000 fry each year
over the past four years. Still, 10 fish is a start, he told me,
and it’s better than most years, going back for decades.
“I’m very satisfied,” Wayne said. “I know that some folks feel
we should have had a lot more fish, but it demonstrates to me that
we can do projects like this. This was a wonderful educational
Given that most of the work done was by volunteers, the Cooper
Creek project was not expensive. The stream is rather short, and
spawning gravel is limited, but the hope is that the run can be
restored without further human intervention.
“We’ll see what happens after four years of supplementation,” he
The 10 salmon that made it back are true survivors — from their
early days, when they somehow avoided predators in the stream, to
four years of swimming in the ocean, to finally avoiding fishing
nets and harbor seals on the last leg of their journey back into
“One thing that was fascinating was to watch when these fish
first showed up,” Wayne said. “There were not only fish; there were
harbor seals that followed them right up to the gas station (near
the mouth of the stream).”
When I hear about harbor seals chasing salmon, I always wonder
why there aren’t more transient killer whales chasing the seals.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world, with dog salmon (chum) on the menu.
As in many streams throughout Puget Sound, volunteers have taken
Cooper Creek to heart, providing a new start for a long lost salmon
I could make a list of small streams where groups of individuals
are making a difference in adding to the mass migration of chum,
coho, pink and chinook salmon, not to mention steelhead. I would
enjoy it if you would pass on stories about grass-roots projects
that are making a difference for salmon and other wild
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
Reminder: Free stream tours from land are scheduled for
Saturday. See the story I wrote for
Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.
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
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
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. Continue reading →
The Southern Resident killer whales have begun their annual
travels into Central and South Puget Sound in search of chum
The shift occurs when chinook salmon have completed their
migration and chum are just beginning to come home to their natal
streams, as I describe in a story in
yesterday’s Kitsap Sun. It is widely assumed that the length of
their stay depends on their success in finding the later
This year was predicted to be a low year for fall chum. But Jay
Zischke, marine fisheries manager for the Suquamish Tribe, told me
that early commercial and test fisheries suggest that the run is
either earlier than usual or larger than the preseason forecast.
Even so, it may still be a relatively low year for fall chum.
This is the 15th anniversary of another low chum year, 1997,
when 19 members of L pod came all the way into Dyes Inlet to find
adequate numbers of chum schooled up in front of Chico and Barker
creeks. The whales stayed in the inlet for a month and left just
before Thanksgiving. There is still debate about whether they
wanted to stay that long.
On the 10th anniversary of the event, I wrote about the story of
two young researchers, Kelley Balcomb-Bartok and Jodi Smith, who
spent most of that month studying the whales and trying to protect
them from a massive number of boaters who wanted a front-boat view
of the action. Stories, maps and other information about that event
can be found on a website called “The Dyes Inlet Whales
— Ten Years Later.” Continue reading →
Forecasts for Puget Sound salmon runs call for lower returns
this year compared to last year, but officials with the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife are emphasizing “promising” chinook
fishing off Washington’s coast and Columbia River.
Preseason forecasts were released yesterday, launching the North
of Falcon Process, which involves state and tribal salmon managers
working together to set sport, commercial and tribal fisheries.
Federal biologists and regulators keep watch over the negotiations
to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
For a complete schedule of meetings leading up to final
decisions the first week of April, go to the WDFW’s North of Falcon
With regard to fishing opportunities, Doug Milward, ocean salmon
fishery manager for the agency, had this to say in yesterday’s news
“It’s still early in the process, but we will likely have an
ocean salmon fishery similar to what we have seen the last two
years, when we had an abundance of chinook in the ocean but low
numbers of hatchery coho.”
Salmon-watching season may be somewhat shortened this year, but
recent rains have encouraged large numbers of fish to swim into
streams on the Kitsap Peninsula and probably elsewhere in Puget
It appears that coho and chum salmon were hanging out in
saltwater waiting for adequate rains, which arrived last week. I
covered the issue fairly extensively in a story in
Friday’s Kitsap Sun.
Normally, the peak of the chum salmon run occurs around
Thanksgiving on the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula. Jon Oleyar,
a biologist with the Suquamish Tribe, tells me that the salmon run
is probably now on the decline, with dead and dying fish beginning
to be seen today in larger numbers.
For most of this week (at least after tomorrow night), the rains
will probably hold off for awhile. Check out the forecast from the
National Weather Service. Drier weather could help the streams
Salmon-watchers on the Kitsap Peninsula have seen a decline in
coho in recent years, and biologists say it is probably because
streamflows have become more “flashy.” More roads and other
impervious surfaces carry water to the streams faster and allow for
less infiltration. Losing infiltration means lower summer flows,
which are important for coho, because coho remain in freshwater the
first summer of their lives.
Anyway, this year we’re seeing more coho in the local streams.
Jon tells me they are mainly hatchery fish, probably strays from
the Suquamish Tribe’s net pens in Agate Passage. Those fish were
meant to improve fishing for both tribal and sport fishers, but
some got away. Whether the coho hatchery strays are beneficial or
harmful to the wild runs remains a subject of debate.
Some of the best salmon-viewing spots are shown on an
interactive map that Angela Hiatt and I made four years ago. See
Kitsap Salmon runs.
If anyone knows of other good spots with public access, please
share them in the comments section.
An axiom among orca observers goes something like this: When you
believe you have figured out what killer whales will do, they’ll do
I’ve become accustomed to writing an annual story that lets
people know when chinook salmon runs are dwindling in the northern
waters of Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia and when chum
salmon runs are beginning to build up in South Puget Sound.
It happens in the fall, and it generally means that our Southern
Resident orcas will begin checking out the buffet table in areas
from Whidbey Island to Tacoma and occasionally as far south as
Olympia. During this time, ferryboat riders aboard the Kingston,
Bainbridge Island, Bremerton and Vashon Island ferries begin seeing
the whales more frequently.
It appears that the table is now set and waiting for the whales,
but that doesn’t mean they’ll show up for dinner on time, as I
describe in a story I wrote for
yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.
Lots of people reported seeing the orcas last week, when they
were spotted from all the usual ferries, including some rare
sightings on the Mukilteo run. The video on this page was taken at
Point Robinson on Vashon Island and shows how exciting it can be to
watch whales from the shore.
Although the Southern Residents showed up in South Sound only
twice in October, historical records reveal that as long as chum
are around, the whales — most notably J Pod — can be expected to
return through December. One analysis of whale movements was
conducted as part of a tidal energy project for the Snohomish
County Public Utility District.
See Marine Mammal Pre-Installation Study (PDF 12.9 mb). (Note
the large file.)
While the Southern Residents are known to eat chum in the fall,
there is no doubt that their preferred prey is chinook salmon,
which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
How to make sure the orcas are getting enough chinook to eat is
part of a major study effort now under way, including a series of
workshops about the effects of salmon fishing on the killer