Salmon face

Run salmon run

When researching the best way to get from Banff to Vancouver we discovered the salmon run. Every October you can see lots of red sockeye salmon returning to their place of birth, to spawn and die.

It just so happened that 2014 is a dominant year so millions of salmon are expected to make the journey. As a comparison, had we come in 2016 (a post-subdominant year) there would only have been 100s returning.

The salmon turn red when they are ready to spawn, making them nice and easy to see. The males also grow a beaky mouth and a large hump – the larger the hump the more dominant the male.

Swimming around 400km along rivers from the Pacific Ocean, the salmon return to the same lake they were born in, often spawning only meters away from their birthplace. Each pair of salmon produces 4,000 eggs but only two of these will survive long enough to make it back to the same spot four years later.

This is the kind of thing you learn about at school or see on wildlife programmes, think how ridiculous it is and never expect to see it in real life. It was pretty cool.

We saw the salmon in three different locations:

1. By the side of the Trans Canada Highway between Revelstoke and Sicamous

Just like with the bears, we saw a line of cars parked up along side the road and lots of people taking photos of the river. We soon realised they must be looking at the salmon, so we too pulled over and joined them.

Looking back, this was probably the best location. There weren’t too many people around and you could see the salmon relatively clearly – there were hundreds of them. The best ones were those which really went for it and zoomed upstream, unlike the few that got themselves stuck behind a log!

Salmon run views
Our vantage point from the side of the road immediately rewarded us with views of the migrating salmon
Salmon run views
The river was full of hundreds of salmon migrating upstream to the lake where they were born four years ago
Salmon face
Wondering whether this fella made it all the way back home
Salmon dying
From top to bottom: salmon that are doing OK; salmon that have got stuck and are probably going to die; a salmon whose luck had already run out
Dead salmon at salmon run
Whilst plenty of salmon continued their journey upstream, plenty of others had not been so lucky. It got a bit stinky at this point.

2. At the Kingfisher Interpretive Centre

This is actually an environmental education centre aimed at school kids but the B&B we were staying with the night before recommended it to us as a ‘less commercial’ place to go and look at the salmon. We parked up at the centre and walked behind it to the river and got a good view of the salmon making their way upstream, as well as a view of quite a lot of poor salmon who didn’t quite make it. They smelt. A lot (think of the smell at a fishmonger, and then add in a bit of decay and rot to the mix). The advantage of this spot was that we were joined by only a handful of people.

Whilst we were here I also managed to completely lose Stewart and had to rope some kids into shouting his name – unfortunately he didn’t hear us!

A band of red sockeye salmon
We were able to watch a band of bright red sockeye salmon in the river – all waiting patiently for their time to try and navigate the rapids up ahead
Salmon having a breather
All that swimming from the Pacific Ocean malarkey is obviously hard work, so this salmon is taking a breather
Sockeye salmon
Shallow waters gave a good view of the salmon at this point

3. Adams River

When the owner of the B&B we were staying at told us this was the more commercial site for salmon viewing we thought there would just be a few more people than at the other sites and maybe an entrance fee as it’s in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park. How wrong we were. The queue for parking was backed right up to the sign saying it was 2km away and there were cars parked all alongside the road.

Rather than sitting in the queue we pulled over and ate our cold and disgusting potato lunch before deciding what to do – fortunately by the time we had finished eating the queue had died down considerably so we went and had a look, knowing that if we turned round we would always wonder what we missed.

We were greeted with a huge car park, a number of vans selling food, a tent full of salmon run t-shirts, a craft tent and thousands of people. It felt a bit like a mini festival – they even had the awful toilets!

We did get to see some more salmon here, but it was no better, if not worse, than the other locations we had been to and as you can imagine, we had to fight for a space on the viewing platform.

Adams River sockeye salmon
The Adams River at Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park offered a view no better than other locations despite the fanfare. The number of red salmon swimming past was still impressive though.
Viewing platform Adams River Salmon Run
A crowded viewing platform at the Adams River does not provide amazing views of the salmon
Adams River salmon run
A scrummage on the river bank to get a shot of the salmon
Salmon run car park
All this just to see some salmon

Our advice: don’t go here on Thanksgiving Weekend!  In fact, just go to the highway between Revelstoke and Sicamous for an impromptu viewing!

Emma

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