Salmon Are Bringing the Holiday Cheer to Ellsworth

By David Ryan, Field Forester

Every year, I eagerly anticipate the return of chum salmon to Ellsworth Creek. When the rains start to come down in October, my forays to the creek increase. As my steps hasten down the trail, I hearken back to childhood days racing down the stairs on Christmas morning in footie pajamas. Within a couple hundred yards of the creek, my steps slow and my ears open as I listen for the splashing and thrashing of salmon on the move upstream

The light of a new day breaching the trees of Ellsworth Creek. Photo © David Ryan / TNC

This year, the rains came hard in mid-October. While we were in the midst of several rainy days, I went down to the creek on Oct. 19. The creek was running high and fast with a lot of turbidity. I couldn't help but think that the whole system was a velocity barrier. No fish to be seen. 

The rains let up that night and I returned the following afternoon. As my pace slowed near the creek, I heard no splashing — perhaps they were still pooled in the estuary waiting. The water was running clear, but still no fish. I ventured about 50 yards downstream to another pool and riffle. Lo and behold: Fish! About eight or 10 ambitious chum salmon working their way up.

A Chum salmon braving the migration upstream after a heavy rain. Photo © David Ryan / TNC

My holiday complete yet continuing, I have returned regularly to check progress. After a hard, rainy night, the water was once again high and turbid. I saw no fish, but knew they were hiding deep in slackwater pools, under overhanging banks and large, downed wood. Subsequent forays have revealed a slow start to the run with fish numbers not yet increasing much. 

Ellsworth Creek Preserve is home to some more unconventional holiday decorations.  Photo © David Ryan / TNC

Perhaps the unseasonably warm weather has made many of our piscine brothers and sisters wary of getting caught in unacceptably warm waters?  Perhaps they have simply been running on a different schedule and my next trip will find hundreds of fighting bulls and redd-building cows. Who knows what wisdom eons of genetically ingrained salmon learning have taught them about when to run or when to wait?

Every trip to the creek is another holiday, and the "presents" I find under the trees of Ellsworth Creek are thousand-fold better than any Big Wheel or video game of my youth.  The sun-dappled forest as autumn turns the hardwoods from green to gold and red, the spider webs laced among limbs and foliage are more than ample substitute for the ornament- and tinsel-laden trees in the living room. The sound of the running stream and splashing salmon are more than equal to the crackling yule fires and carols of childhood.

Ellsworth Creek is a continual inspiration. Photo © David Ryan / TNC

I always leave with a greater sense of peace and joy than when I enter. And I am always thankful to be part of an organization that has the vision, courage, and fortitude to make Ellsworth Creek Preserve possible. Happy holidays!

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