Salmon in the Sawtooth: Olympic Champs!

I grew up prowling around the mangroves of Florida with my dad.  Fishing, paddling, and swimming were my preferred weekend activities, and as a Florida native, the opportunities were endless.

 

Five years ago I moved to Idaho sight-unseen, knowing little about the state.  Quick research yielded some fun facts to spout out to my Florida friends and family, including that Idaho has more miles of river than any other state.

 

I have fallen in love with Idaho (and it’s swift-flowing rivers) and since moving here, I’ve joined the ranks of many fellow gem-state residents as a salmon enthusiast.  My curiosity about salmon was first piqued by the many fishy-namesakes, including a brewery called Sockeye, campgrounds named Chinook, and lakes, like Redfish.

 

Being a born and bred Floridian, my experience with anadromous fish is limited to the majestic tarpon, which occasionally head inland to live in freshwater for a period of time.  Learning about the trek Idaho’s sockeye, chinook, and steelhead make from my home near the Salmon River to the Pacific Ocean as smolts and back after a few years (a 900 mile journey one way) profoundly awed me.  

 

Idaho’s salmon are considered the “Olympic Champs” of the salmon universe, overcoming many obstacles, predators, and hungry humans on their long migration.  The odds are stacked against them, and yet, year after year, some fish make the incredible journey back to their birth waters to make a nest in the gravel (called a redd) and lay their eggs.  Their journey concludes after spawning (except steelhead, which sometimes make the journey to/from the ocean several times!), and their bodies provide nutrients to help the baby fish (and the freshwater system as a whole).

 

Sockeye salmon are beginning to return to the Sawtooths.  Experts are predicting a low return rate this year, which is all the more reason to celebrate the fish who make it here.  Thus far, six Sockeye (all wild!) have been counted at the Redfish Lake Creek and Sawtooth Hatchery weirs. We can all learn something from their fortitude and strength!