Salmon-watching on Vashon-Maury IslandNovember 9, 2011 3 Comments
WRITTEN BY: KATHRYN TRUE
Thanks to Stream and Marine Ecologist Bob Fuerstenberg and Abel Eckhardt, land steward, Vashon Maury Island Land Trust, for salmon information.
The rains are coming (and going), but they will soon arrive in earnest, and as the siren scent of their home streams wash into the Sound, salmon will follow their noses into Vashon waterways. There have already been a sprinkling (seven to be exact) of salmon sighted along Judd Creek, and with November’s trademark deluge (Nov. 19 is historically the Northwest’s rainiest day of the year), we expect more (hopefully many more) to follow.
Coho salmon or silvers (Oncorhynchus kisutch) spawn in the Puget Sound area from October through January, with a peak around Thanksgiving each year, depending on rains and tides. Abel was awarded the first coho sighting in Judd Creek this year. On October 12th, while working at a Land Trust Paradise Valley preserve, he saw two coho. Along with the Paradise Valley preserves that border the creek, some of the best coho viewing spots are near Judd Creek culverts.
Judd Creek Salmon Viewing Spots:
- The culvert under SW 216th St. (just west of 107th Ave. SW)
- Abel’s salmon sweet spot: Just north of the intersection of SW 216th St. and 111th Ave. SW is a large cedar tree on the east side of the road. Park and walk down a trail under this tree to a small cedar grove next to the creek. This area is also described in Family Walks on Vashon Island.
- The culvert under 111th (when driving east on 111th you will see the creek pass under the road)
- The culvert under SW 204th St. (just west of 111th) Directly north of this culvert is the Land Trust’s Singer Farm property. There is not yet a trail, but you’re welcome to walk along the creek here (just try to avoid stepping on flagged plantings).
How to spot salmon:
The most important salmon viewing tool is patience, according to Abel, who points out that you often hear salmon approach before you see them, so quiet watchers may spot fish faster. Bring along polarized sunglasses to help cut down water glare, allowing you to see more underwater detail.
Please report what you see to email@example.com. Vashon Nature Center is keeping a record of fish seen in 2011 and hopes to reinstate an official island salmon watching program next year.
(Note: Please stay out of streams, especially during and after spawning months. Delicate eggs develop in shallow gravel redds and can easily be smashed or washed downstream.)
Strike out? Don’t give up if you don’t spot a salmon on your first try. Visit again and again. On a recent visit to Shinglemill, we were treated to a tiny water ballet (video by Kathryn True).
Even if the fish are elusive, there’s likely to be something that makes the trip worthwhile.
Vashon’s streams regularly host coho and chum salmon and both sea-going and resident forms of cutthroat trout. It would be really exciting to see Chinook salmon or steelhead as there is potential habitat for both species in Judd Creek but no confirmed sightings. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org with your fish sightings and take a photo if you can.
Coho salmon are 22-27 inches long, have dark, bluish-green heads and backs with sides that are brilliant red to wine in color. The gill cover is reddish. Bob says silvers are classic salmon, with the males having a strongly hooked nose or kype (the Pacific salmon genus name, Oncorhynchus, means “hooked snout” and refers to the spawning males’ distinct mouth feature).
In late December and January islanders can begin to look for chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta). The 15-pound males look like creek tigers with maroon-and-black vertical bars, humped backs, elongated jaws, no-nonsense teeth and imposing kypes, which they use to defend the females. The females are smaller with lighter barring and a dark horizontal stripe. Here is a recent picture of a dead chum salmon found at the mouth of the creek at Lisabeula Beach (photo by Bianca Perla):
Though salmon are the stars of Vashon waterways, resident cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki) are the most ubiquitous local salmonids, quietly surviving in even the most insubstantial streamlets. Their ocean-going cousins, sea run cutthroat, also use many Vashon streams (according to a Wild Fish Conservancy survey completed in 2001). However, no Vashon observers have seen any sea run cutthroat for years. Tell us if you do! (email@example.com).
- To spot cutthroats, Bob suggests visiting the mouth of Shinglemill Creek in March, especially during high tides to look for these sleek, spotted fish with red gill markings that can grow up to 30 inches long. Young sea-run and resident cutthroats cannot be told apart. However, adult sea-run cutthroats are much bigger than their “land-locked” counterparts (up to 30 inches compared to less than 10 inches).
The Wild Fish Conservancy (formerly Washington Trout Unlimited) report on fish in Vashon streams is worth checking out. A whopping 75 island waterways are interpreted in these interactive maps and the accompanying report. This survey emphasizes our strong connection to water. Check out these maps and you may discover a new stream. Visiting local streams and observing the life cycles occurring within them often strengthens our resolve to care for our creeks so that salmon, salmon-watchers, and other water-dependent species can keep returning again and again.