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Where to see salmon spawning in Whatcom County creeks

Learn where to watch spawning salmon in Whatcom County

The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association offers special events to see spawning salmon in Whatcom County creeks every fall. Check n-sea.org for more information.
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The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association offers special events to see spawning salmon in Whatcom County creeks every fall. Check n-sea.org for more information.

A local salmon preservation group is offering two events this month to see salmon traveling upstream to spawn, including a rare tour at a site along Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham.

Naturalists and salmon experts from the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association are leading tours from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday on Oyster Creek at Taylor Shellfish Farms, 2182 Chuckanut Drive in Bow; and from noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 12, on Chuckanut Creek near the footbridge at Arroyo Park. Parking for the Saturday event is at Taylor Shellfish; parking for the Nov. 12 event is at the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead on Chuckanut Drive and at two small lots near Arroyo Park, 1700 Old Samish Road.

Seeing a salmon actually digging a ‘redd’ (for its eggs) in front of your eyes – you just feel the natural presence. It’s awe-inspiring.

Kendra Krantz, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association

Kendra Krantz, N-SEA program assistant, said many people marvel at the first time they see salmon spawning in the wild.

“Actually seeing a salmon is something different,” Krantz said. “Seeing a salmon actually digging a ‘redd’ (for its eggs) in front of your eyes – you just feel the natural presence. It’s awe-inspiring.”

For the Saturday tour, N-SEA pairs with the Skagit Fishery Enhancement Group to discuss both the importance of the Skagit and Whatcom county watersheds on local salmon populations. Viewing will be from a bridge not too far upstream from the shellfish farm, she said. Taylor Shellfish will offer oysters for sale that can be grilled on site if participants want to picnic, Krantz said.

N-SEA staff have been scouting local creeks for salmon in anticipation of the tours.

“We did see fish in Oyster Creek,” Krantz said. “We saw about three or four chum, and one dead on the bank. That was really exciting, so we do expect to see fish the day of the tour.”

For the Nov. 12 event, participants may need to walk a short distance along the Interurban Trail, depending on parking availability. Chuckanut Creek is a popular site in November for those hoping to see the Northwest’s iconic fish return after their years-long journey at sea to the creek where they hatched. There, they will spawn and die, Krantz said.

Participants are asked to leave pets at home – because dogs can disturb the fish – and to dress in layers for the weather. Many people bring cameras, binoculars and sketch books.

For those who want to find salmon on their own, Krantz said it depends on the time of year and the species of salmon. Chum salmon are common in November in Whatcom County creeks that are easily accessed. Whatcom County is home to all five species of Pacific salmon: chum, Chinook, pink, sockeye and coho.

To see salmon, Krant advises observing silently along a creek and waiting for the fish to move.

“With coho especially, they’re a really skittish fish,” Krantz said. “You have to sit patiently and watch the water.”

Besides Arroyo Park, popular viewing sites are: Maritime Heritage Park near the fish hatchery at the mouth of Whatcom Creek; Salmon Park, off Fraser Street in the Redtail Reach area along Whatcom Creek; and along Padden Creek in Fairhaven Park, where coho can be found.

In Lynden, try Fishtrap Creek at Lynden City Park or Bertrand Creek at Berthusen Park. In Acme, fish are found at Landing Strip Creek. Those sites are all tributaries of the Nooksack River.

Spelling of the word for a salmon egg nest was corrected Nov. 17, 2016.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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