By Eric Ettlinger, Aquatic Ecologist
The third week of December is typically the mid-point of the coho spawning run on Lagunitas Creek. Spawner survey results before mid-December don’t typically mean much in terms of predicting the season’s coho run, but at this point I can let myself start feeling hopeful or worried about the season total. So with five weeks of surveys behind us, how do I feel about this year’s coho run? In a word, disappointed. To date we’ve seen 51 coho redds, which is somewhat below average, and predicts a season total in the neighborhood of 150 redds. That total would rank in the bottom third of runs over the last 18 years, in a year when abundant rain has allowed coho to spawn wherever and whenever they want, unlike some past years. It may be that this week will mark a sharp upswing in coho spawning activity, but for now things don’t look encouraging.
On a more positive note, we continue to see relatively large numbers of Chinook and chum salmon in the creek. To date we’ve counted 22 Chinook redds, which matches the pace of the big Chinook run of 2004-05, when we saw 125 Chinook and 44 redds. In the case of chum, “relatively large numbers” means three fish, but these few fish continue to be fascinating. Last week we again saw a male chum attempting to spawn with a female Chinook. In this instance the male had taken on the coloration of a female chum, with a solid, dark bar running the length of the fish. We weren’t fooled, however, because he was on a redd with an obviously female Chinook and his pattern of worn scales indicated that he had been fighting, not building a redd. Interestingly, it’s been many years since we’ve seen a chum salmon displaying the bold purple and black stripes of spawning males. Maybe they only dress up like that in the presence of other males.
It looks like rain and high flows will keep us out of the creek for at least the next few days, if not all week. Hopefully coho are surging upstream as I write this.
| A cross-dressed chum salmon in Lagunitas Creek