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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Dec 15

Spawning Season Half-time

Posted on December 15, 2014 at 3:06 PM by Ann Vallee

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.

 Chum salmon
 A cross-dressed chum salmon in Lagunitas Creek


Chance Salmon
December 15, 2014 at 8:47 PM
Spent the afternoon at Samuel P Taylor and spotted a male and female coho on a redd. Was pretty exciting for the whole family. Keep up the work on the Salmon recovery projects. Hope my kids are fishing these runs in 20 years.
Eric Ettlinger
December 16, 2014 at 2:32 PM
"There's no nooky like Chinooky," as the saying goes, and coho spawning is pretty great too. Glad you got to see it. I also hope my kids can fish for salmon here someday. Thanks for the encouragement!
William Joost Jr
December 17, 2014 at 9:38 PM
Saw 5 pair (10 or 11 total) in Lagunitas Creek on 12/12, including a couple of very large ones. I hope my kids, and their kids -to-be will be viewing but not fishing for them in 20 years. We live along Nicasio Creek between the town square and Skywalker. It angers me that when it built Nicasio Reservoir, MMWD was so short-sighted they failed to install a fish ladder...truly shameful and yet, little is said about it.
Eric Ettlinger
December 19, 2014 at 11:37 AM
Hi William! Thanks for sharing your observations. I’m glad this year is providing more salmon viewing opportunities than last year. Regarding Nicasio Reservoir, I also lament the loss of what was likely a large run of coho salmon up Nicasio Creek. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to get fish past water supply reservoirs that are drawn down each year. Fish ladders only work when water is flowing over the dam, and in most years Nicasio Reservoir doesn’t fill until the end of the coho spawning run and can stop spilling before the end of smolt migration. Finally, the reservoir is full of predatory fish that would likely eat migrating smolts. For a decade after Nicasio Reservoir was built, the CA Department of Fish and Game caught and transported adult coho and steelhead over the dam in the winter and then caught and transported smolts downstream in the spring. Eventually they ended the effort due to the expense and diminishing returns, literally. I truly wish we had a way to restore the salmon run to Nicasio Creek, but at this point no one has come up with an effective way to do it. Thanks again.

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