Monday, November 12, 2018

Chum Salmon Return Home

Above: Reminding us that water is life, chum salmon return home to McLane Creek in Olympia.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

With the month of November comes a reminder that chum salmon are returning home to McLane Creek and Kennedy Creek in south Puget Sound.

Although the salmon begin their journey from the ocean in mid-October and complete it in mid-December, November is the best opportunity to view them close-up and personal. 

Salmon viewing at Kennedy Creek is available only on weekends between 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and the day after Thanksgiving through November 30. 

Salmon viewing at McLane Creek is available everyday.

Thousands of people visit the creek trails to learn more about what makes a healthy salmon habitat and observe spawning and courting behaviors. 

Their dramatic journey is a powerful, moving sight to behold. 

Trained Stream Team Salmon Steward volunteers posted at both McLane Creek and Kennedy Creek this past weekend patiently explained the life cycle of salmon to hundreds of visitors.

Sometimes, they sprinkled in a few friendly jokes with the serious science, using humor to help the facts stick for all ages.

“They find their way back to their stream because of the female, because we all know males suck at directions. Otherwise, the males would be swimming in circles their whole lives around the whole ocean looking for his creek because he won’t ask for directions,” quipped a male Salmon Steward at McLane Creek on Saturday. 

The joke was well received, prompting endless questions for the steward.

Above: People view the salmon from an overlook at McLane Creek. McLane Creek originates in the Black Hills and flows 14.5 miles to Mud Bay, which is located at the southern end of Eld Inlet.

Kennedy Creek is one of the most productive chum salmon production streams in Washington State and is home to four of the seven Pacific salmon species: chum, coho, steelhead, and cutthroat trout.

It borders Thurston and Mason counties with its headwaters in Summit Lake in the Black Hills and empties into Totten Inlet at Oyster Bay.

Normally, the spawning population at Kennedy Creek is between 20,000 and 40,000 salmon.

Spawning adults can produce approximately 30 million to 60 million eggs annually but not all eggs will survive. On average, only two to three individuals will complete their natural life cycle and return to the stream where they hatched.

The salmon normally come to Kennedy Creek before McLane Creek, but this year was different. Little rain this past summer and nearby clear cutting resulting in a possible quicker run off may account for the difference.

The Kennedy Creek trail was developed by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG) with many partners. 

The land is owned by Taylor Shellfish Farms and maintained by Green Diamond Resources. A portion of the property was recently logged.

Rain is supposed to arrive this coming week, swelling the streams, and make navigation easier for the salmon. They don’t mind shallow water, but they need flowing water because it brings oxygen to the eggs. 

The females have a narrow window of time, about two weeks, in which to spawn otherwise the eggs aren’t viable.

Kennedy Creek Natural Area Preserve: For directions from Olympia, go north on 101. At milepost 356, turn left onto Old Olympic Highway. Continue on Old Olympic Highway until you see the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail signs on your left. Go up the forest road, which is now a clear cut, for .75 miles. Turn right into the Trail parking lot.

Dogs are not allowed on the trail. A Washington State Discover Pass is required for parking at this site.

McLane Creek Nature Trail: For directions from Olympia from Highway 101, take the Mud Bay exit. Turn left onto Mud Bay Road NW, turn left onto Delphi Road. Go south on Delphi Road for 3.3 miles. It is open daily. A Washington State Discover Pass is required for parking at this site.

Salmon Stewards say that it is best to leave dogs at home during spawning season as they can spook the salmon. If you bring your dog, keep it leashed and away from live and dead salmon.

Stream Team is a multi-city and county-led environmental education organization. For more information about Stream Team, Salmon Steward docent opportunities, and citizen science activities, go to

Above: An American Dipper enjoys the natural, riparian environment at Kennedy Creek. American Dippers are fun to watch as they bob up and down near swift running water, then dive in for food. While completely submerged, they quickly probe the stream bed for aquatic insects, then hop back out.