Natural History — Spawning Coho

Yesterday, I was with a small group that was fortunate enough to come upon what was probably a female coho ready to spawn in the major creek running into Rough Bay.

This creek originates in the interior of the island, crosses Second Street behind Delwin Nelson’s, meanders through Ross and Sheila Michelson’s acreage and then crosses Rupert Street into Jeannie Lawrence’s. A short distance from there it empties into Rough Bay at the site of the old Red Bridge, now replaced with a culvert. Spawning coho have been observed in this creek since the days of the early settlement. Clearing land and logging took their toll on the creek but the run was never completely extinguished. Several decades ago a hatchery on the Michelson property boosted the numbers. The story of this endeavour will be the topic of another blog. Although we only saw the one fish we hope that there are more and that the run is still hanging on. Vern Aro commented on the much smaller fish accompanying her. He said that Dolly Varden, a char, often enter streams following spawning salmon in order to feast on any eggs that are not completely buried in the gravel. We hope that more coho arrive and another generation emerges from the gravel. Watch for the forthcoming blog on the hatchery.

Loretta Rihtamo and I returned to the spawning creek today anxious to see if more coho had arrived.  If sharp eyed Robert Belveal hadn’t arrived we might have left disappointed.

He quickly discovered the first fish–a large one probably a male was hanging out beside the outlet of a small culvert, poking its head inside as if searching for something.  It soon became apparent why as Loretta caught a glimpse of a tail emerging from the culvert.  As we watched a smaller fish backed out and joined the larger one.  Together they tumbled a distance downstream out of sight.  Altogether we spotted four large fish and three much smaller.  Robert thinks that the small ones were jack coho not Dolly Varden. I saw Alexandra Morton later and asked her.  She said that jack coho do accompany the adults into the spawning stream as do Dolly Varden.

The creek was running much higher today after heavy rain.  Robert told us that the fish would have come in on the high tide.  This week has the biggest tides of the month and would give the coho a boost into the creek.  Check for another update later this week.

On Friday, November 25, 2011 we returned to the same stretch of creek and discovered five adults and several smaller fish.  It takes a little practice to train one’s eyes to pick up the shapes of the fish; often it is only the splash of a tail when a fish makes a short spurt ahead that brings it to our attention.

Much of the time they lie quietly resting. Since this was just a snapshot of a very short section of the creek over a few minutes we know that there were likely to be many more elsewhere in the creek.

This day was auspicious as the highest tide of the year occurred around noon pushing the sea far up into the creek giving the fish entering the creek deeper water and less force from the outflow.  After checking out the section of creek along 2nd Street we headed for the shore in Rough Bay to the spot where the creek enters the ocean.  In the old days a red wooden bridge, the Red Bridge, spanned the creek but it has now been replaced by a culvert.  Check out the photos taken less than half an hour apart.  A large lake had formed on the inland side of the road but quickly drained once the tide turned.

Over the years, chum as well as coho have been observed in this creek by long term Sointula residents.  I will edit this post when I get more information.



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.