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Sockeye attempting to leap a beaver dam (left) and chinook salmon hanging out (right) in the UW Bothell wetlands. Photos: J.S. Jensen

Please check back regularly for updates and, of course, to submit your data.

December 6, 2020:  

By the spirit of Orson Bennett “Old Bug” Johnson (and his fabulous sideburns), you are invited to celebrate the end of a fun and productive season of salmon watching!


  • When?  Friday, December 11, 7:30 pm
  • Where?  The comfort of your own home through the magic of the Zoom link below.  Meeting ID: 953 8754 9625
  • What?  An evening of rejoicing and reflection on our successful season, including a brief summary of results, a chance to meet your fellow salmon watchers, sharing of experiences from this year and ideas for next year, and a fireside reading of “A Hunting Excursion” – an account of an 1885 collecting trip written by the very hand of Young Naturalist and future Seattle luminary Edmond S. Meany (narrated by your host)

Coming to a small stream near you in 2023* – Kokanee!

* Assuming all stars align

As many of you know, I have been babbling on for a while now about returning kokanee to small local streams.  I’m hardly the first person to have the idea – it has been suggested various times over the past 20 years for various local streams.  Members of People for an Environmentally Responsible Kenmore (PERK) have suggested kokanee for 0056 (the stream entering at Log Boom Park), as has Jim Mattilla.  Various people have suggested kokanee for Lake Forest Park streams, and I’ve even read an old proposal to put kokanee in what remains of Arboretum Creek.  So why hasn’t it been done already, what’s different now, and, for Pete’s sake, why will we have to wait another three years?

As I mentioned in the last post, for most of the 20th century fish plants were done with little regard for local genetics.  Stocking could be as simple as grabbing a bucket of fry and throwing them in the stream.  Those days are gone, and with good reason.  Carelessly stocking fish can spread disease, disrupt native ecology, and was often unsuccessful because the stocked fish were ill-suited to the location and had poor survival.  In fact, kokanee HAVE been planted in Lake Forest Park streams as recently as the late 1970’s but did not succeed.  Planting fish now requires a lot of permitting and a much better rationale than “wouldn’t it be cool if some came back.”

So what’s different now?  A lot of things, actually.

  • We have a sensible source population. I assume prior plants came from Lake Whatcom and were ill-suited to Lake Washington conditions at the time.  With your help we now have documentation of a “kokanee” population that already exists in the lake.  It seems to be doing well, and because it’s already here there is no risk of introducing disease or changing lake ecology.
  • We know a lot of relevant information about this population, and we will know more soon. Last week I took a batch of tissue samples from this season down to the Fish and Wildlife Genetics Lab in Olympia, and they are in the queue for analysis and comparison with other kokanee and sockeye populations from the state.  Those who would be concerned that we don’t know what these fish are will have their questions answered.  Even if these turn out to derived from non-native nerka populations, we will have the otoliths to demonstrate that they are freshwater only and, if I get funding for microchemistry, we will even know whether or not they are freshwater-only across generations.  There may still be some who object to supplementing a non-native fish population (if that’s what it turns out to be), but at least we’ll have done our due diligence and can press our case from a position of knowledge.
  • This project is being done with insights gained from the extensive kokanee restoration efforts in Lake Sammamish, and in partnership with Trout Unlimited and multiple local non-profit environmental organizations (including the Lake Forest Park Stewardship Foundation, PERK, and OneBothell). There is also strong community interest and support in salmon restoration and monitoring (including you all!).  I’ve worked to increase enthusiasm among streamside homeowners and elected officials, and I think there’s been excellent progress.

Okay, okay.  So why wait until 2023?

  • As far as I can tell, this late run of kokanee has a strong run only every third year. While there are kokanee-like fish alongside the sockeye every year, in 2019 and 2018 none outlasted the sockeye on the spawning sites.  In 2017 there was a strong run of kokanee after the sockeye were gone, and this year the run is even larger and later (I still saw dozens at the mouth of Little Bear just yesterday – 12/5.  See below).  A quick look at otoliths from this year’s fish indicates that they are three-year olds, I expect (hope for?) a strong run again in 2023.
  • Permits and logistics need to be worked out. I want some more experience rearing and releasing fry (I’m using coho now), live fish will need to be captured, stripped of eggs and sperm, eggs fertilized and transported and reared.  All of this requires permitting, practice, and consultation with experienced folks.  Over the next two years I will work on getting the appropriate permits and partnerships to make this possible.

And where will this first batch of kokanee eggs go?

  • Given the logistics and permitting required, and the three year gap between runs, I’m inclined to plant as many as possible as widely as possible in 2023. Given that there’s only so much time and people power, though, I do have a priority list:
    • Top priority: Lyon and McAleer creeks. I have worked with these creeks for years now, including running a remote site incubator, and I have good relationships with many streamside homeowners who could host egg boxes.  I have received generous support from the Lake Forest Park Stewardship Foundation, and large populations of kokanee are documented to have been present in these streams early in the 20th century.
    • Second priority: 0056 in Kenmore and 0224 in St. Edwards State Park. 0056 has long been mentioned as a potential kokanee stream and has community support.  It currently has a blocking barrier at SR-522.  Pending the resolution of that, or identification of suitable spawning habitat downstream, this would be a good candidate.  0224 is a small stream that is primarily within St. Edwards State Park.  The protected stream course and the possible siting of a UW Bothell Environmental Education and Research Center at St. Edwards makes this an attractive option.
    • Others: Any stream that is not currently supporting kokanee or sockeye might be good, particularly if there is historical evidence of kokanee having been present (e.g. Swamp, Juanita) and/or it has undergone habitat restoration but does not currently have a spawning population (e.g. Horse, perhaps Waynita once restored).

With some luck and planning, we may be “salmon watching” these kokanee returning in the Fall of 2026 and monitoring the outmigration of their fry in the spring of 2027!  (Mark your calendars for one night/week of fry trap monitoring for March through May 2027).

And our season ends …

There are still kokanee at the mouth of Little Bear (I’d say about 30 total – drone footage here), but I saw only one fish in our other hotspot in North Creek just above 405.  Other than some of your reports from those two locations, there have been no other recent sightings.  Despite perfect conditions yesterday, low clear water and December sunshine, I found not a single carcass in my standard kayak trip from Woodinville to Bothell.  Below, festively bedecked in seasonal red and green, is my last sample of the season (mouth of Little Bear, 11/29).  


Thank you all so much for your help and enthusiasm!!!  I hope to see you this coming Friday night.  Don’t worry about sending an RSVP; just come if you can and stay for as much or little as you like.  My apologies to those of you who cannot make that time.  I will send out a summary report over winter break.


November 21, 2020:  

“Like trying to define the undefinable” – Charles Darwin, 1856, referring to the challenge of defining species in a letter to Joseph Hooker.

Like nobody before him, Darwin understood the importance of variation.  While the idea that species could evolve into other species was not new with him, that belief was still controversial enough that he described sharing it as being “like confessing a murder.”  People in his day, and most people still, are more comfortable with the idea of species being fairly uniform and being distinct from other species – a song sparrow is a song sparrow and not a house finch,  and a sockeye is a sockeye and not a coho.  Darwin recognized that 1) variation within a species is important, not just noise around an ideal, and 2) as species evolve into other species through time  there is usually no bright line between them.   Even at a single point in time the boundaries between species are often unclear – blue whales and fin whales look and act like different species, but fertile hybrids between them are occasionally found.  We live in a stable hybrid zone between Hermit warblers and Townsend warblers, two bird species distinct enough to be distinguishable even by a fish person like me. 


Hermit warbler from Wikipedia; Townsend warbler from my backyard.

If species can be hard to distinguish, imagine how much harder is must be to distinguish among separate populations within a species.  Salmon are excellent examples of meaningful within species population variation.  Most return to the place they hatched to mate, so populations easily diverge as they adapt to different streams or even different locations within a stream.  These very local adaptations are extremely important because there can be great differences among streams in amount and timing of rainfall, temperature profiles, types of predators,  and thousands of other variables that determine whether a population is successful.  [This population level variation was largely ignored or unappreciated by fisheries managers in the 20th century.  One or a very few populations, e.g. Green River Chinook or Chambers Creek steelhead, were used to stock streams throughout the state, accelerating the decline of native populations that were already there.  To make matters worse, these populations became adapted to hatchery egg-rearing conditions, making them even less suited to the rivers into which they were planted). 

Why mass die-offs of salmon can be a wonderful thing. 

First and foremost, assuming we are on the spawning grounds, mass quantities of dead salmon indicates a strong return of salmon that the have died after successfully spawning.  Second, large numbers of dead salmon provide an opportunity to distinguish among potentially diverging populations even in early stages of separation –  e.g. between sockeye salmon and the late-running “mystery nerka” currently in the Sammamish river and North creek.

Brief aside on population genetics:

As many of you may know (or at least dimly remember), we carry two copies of most genes in each of our cells.  There may be only one version of a gene in a population, or there may be two or three or many versions of a gene in a population.  Different versions of a gene are called alleles, and if a population has only a single allele it is called monomorphic; if there are multiple alleles in a population it is called polymorphic.  E.g. the circles below represent different populations.  The one on the left is monomorphic for the A allele, the one on the right is polymorphic and has both A and B alleles.


Ideally, if I was hoping to show that two populations are distinct and not interbreeding, I would find that they are monomorphic for different alleles for a gene.  E.g. I would know that the population below on the left is not interbreeding with (i.e. exchanging alleles with) the population on the right.  If it were, then some B alleles would have leaked into it, and some A alleles would have leaked into the population on the right.


In the real world, if a gene is polymorphic it is likely to be polymorphic in BOTH populations you are comparing – what you end up comparing is the proportion of alleles in each population.  For example, in the population below the “mystery nerka” sample has 60% A and 40% B.  The sockeye population* has 50% A and 50% B.


Is the mystery nerka population different from the sockeye population?  Our conclusion depends on how big our sample is!  If we have a sample of only 10 mystery nerka, the chance of getting 60% or more A alleles is 38%, even if the sample came from a population that was 50:50!  I’m not very confident about that.   If our sample size was 100, the chance of getting 60% or more A alleles is only 1% … now I feel more confident!**  We have an intuitive sense of this.  If you flip what you think is an unbiased coin 10 times, you’re not shocked if you get 6 heads.  If you flip a coin 10,000 times and get 6000 or more heads, you can be sure that your coin is biased (and you need to find better ways to spend your time).  This is all my long-winded way of saying “Thank you!” to all of you who have reported sightings of fish, locations of carcasses, or, in some cases, have collected samples.  It’s been a good year for collecting, and thanks to all of you I have a statistically meaningful sample size.  Modern population geneticists have impressive laboratory techniques and  gain statistical power by comparing proportions for many genes and using sophisticated software.  In the end, though, it comes down to field biologists, museum curators, and citizen scientists like yourselves to provide the samples and biological context.  Thank you, thank you! 

* The explanation is simpler if we assume we know the proportions for the whole sockeye population.  The logic doesn’t change even if we don’t.
** For those of you reaching for your calculators … you can save time by going here:

And now for something completely different!

Craig sent me these awesome pictures of a male mystery nerka he found at the mouth of Little Bear last week.  Same fish, taken 16 minutes apart.  Look 16Minutesat that amazing color in the “before” shot!  We’ve used color to identify salmon, but we haven’t really talked about where the color comes from, how it’s useful, and why salmon have it (the subtle distinction between “how something is useful” and “why something is present” is very important for evolutionary biologists).  And what’s with the orange flesh, anyway?  Other fish don’t have orange flesh. 

“Where does it come from?” is pretty straightforward.  The coloration of salmon flesh depends on the presence of carotenoids in the diet, and the ability to sequester them.  Carotenoids come from carrots (not known to be an important part of the salmon diet) and many other photosynthetic organisms including many plankton.  Salmon, and flamingos, and some other animals eat these algae or the zooplankton that feed on them and use the pigments in various ways.  In salmon they are stored in the muscle and mobilized to the skin during spawning season.  If you cut through the silvery skin of  most salmon straight from the ocean you will find bright orange flesh.  If you cut through the colorful skin of the same fish on the spawning grounds you will find relatively pale flesh. 

“How are carotenoids useful?”  Color plays an important role in salmon courtship, particularly in males.  Mating success is helped by being colorful in male salmon just as it is in peacocks and may other animals [why females should care about how colorful males are is an interesting topic for another day].  And the orange flesh?  Carotenoids are stored in the flesh and used for spawning coloration, but they are also anti-oxidants and in that and other ways may enhance muscle function.

“Why salmon and not other fish?”  Carotenoids are in the diet of many fish, but only salmon have the ability to sequester them from the diet and concentrate them in the muscle.  The diet of ocean-going salmon is high in carotenoids so for sockeye this is relatively easy.  (The freshwater diet of kokanee is much lower in carotenoids, but they can still turn bright red because they’ve adapted to be even more effective at acquiring and storing carotenoids than sockeye.)  One theory for the origin of this trait is that sequestering carotenoids was initially useful to salmon because of their beneficial effects on muscle during the challenges of migration, with the pigments later being used for spawning display.  As any parent of a four-year-old child knows, trying to answer “why” questions inevitably leads to more why questions, so the mystery continues.

This week in salmon watching …

Now’s a great time to get out looking for coho!  I walked a section of McAleer creek this morning, and viewing conditions were excellent owing to low water, bright sunshine, and the application of Garlon® 4 herbicide distressingly close to an occupied salmon stream.  Despite the great conditions I did not see any coho, but they should be showing up.

Kokanee are still present in great abundance both at the mouth of Little Bear and in Lower North Creek (Larry … anything up your way?).  It’s a little hard to tell with the higher water, but my sense is that the numbers are starting to go down even though many redds are still occupied.  I am also finding more post-spawn female carcasses with the tails worn away from digging redds. 


November 8, 2020:  

Coho-ho!  With the rains last week, plus the cool weather and dropping water recently, we should be seeing coho in the streams now.  Coho like to move in after a rain, and the timing is right. Even the small streams were we haven’t seen any fish yet, like Lyon, are likely to see a few coho showing up.   Look for the rosy “cheeks” (gill covers) and the hooked snout on males.  To get a sense of the willingness of coho to enter small streams, check out the Twitter video from Horse Creek in Bothell from 2016 – just after the section in Bothell was restored.  The video has a bit of a shaky, bigfoot-sighting-esque feel to it, but I’m told it was in fact a coho.

Suzanne sent me news of seven coho seen in Boeing creek.  Unfortunately, the report also noted that six were dead – “raccoons.”  It’s certainly possible they were killed by raccoons, but also quite possible that the raccoons were just the lucky recipients of a free meal courtesy of toxic run-off from roads.  So-called “pre-spawn mortality” takes a heavy toll on coho in urban watersheds.  Toxins that have collected all summer and early fall get washed into streams just as coho are near their finish line.  The actual toxins or combination of toxins responsible for coho pre-spawn mortality are still unclear ***, but what is clear is that effective management of run-off, e.g. through rain gardens or other means of moving run-off through the soil, does a great job of detoxifying the water.  And, rain gardens are both attractive and sometimes supported through city or county grants.  Check out for more info.  

UPDATE 12/3/20 – Unclear no more1  See

Getting to the HoHo part of Cohoho, here’s my idea for a holiday Zoom gathering to celebrate our interesting and successful year of salmon watching.  We meet as a group via Zoom one night 12/6-12 at 7 pm for an evening of conversation and celebration.  Here’s the plan, starting at 7 pm:

  • Some general remarks from me and a summary of findings from the year
  • Time in breakout rooms with other SalmonWatchers on your stream so you can meet each other and compare experiences.  For small groups I will lump a couple together
  • Back to the big group to share feedback to make next year even better
  • A special reading from the annals of the Young Naturalist Society circa 1885 describing a collecting trip to the wilderness near Lake Washington led by Orson Bennett (“Old Bug”) Johnson.  I will screen share a Yule Log fire via Zoom for an extra cozy feel.
  • For those who still haven’t had enough about salmon, we’ll watch the excellent documentary “Spawning Grounds” which chronicles efforts to save and restore native kokanee in Lake Sammamish. 

I have set up a Doodle poll for you to let me know what night(s) you’d be available.  Please indicate at the poll below – I will pick a day next weekend.

Last week in salmon watching continued to be almost all kokanee, all the time, with a few sockeye lingering.  The rains made fish a bit harder to see at the mouth of Little Bear, but they’re still there in large numbers.  On Friday I made a kayakarcass collecting trip from Wilmot-Gateway to Bracketts Landing on the Sammamish and saw lots of fish at and below Little Bear and packed into the lower section of North Creek.  I also learned, in one of the few positive outcomes of the Covid era, that I can successfully participate in a Faculty Meeting via Zoom while out in my kayak.  My colleagues, huddled before their computers in dark basements or home offices, did not seem as delighted by my discovery as I was.  Oh … and I found 11 carcasses to boot!  Two sockeye, nine kokanee.  Lynn checked out upstream in the Sammamish and reported seeing likely kokanee near Willows (thanks Lynn!).  I’m hoping to get there to check it out myself and maybe bring the underwater camera.

More rain is in the forecast for later this week, and coho can’t be far behind (Heather … McAleer is a good bet!).

November 1, 2020:  

My apologies for the missed post last week!  I’ve been super busy, but with the luxury of an extra hour this weekend there’s no excuse for being late again.  Plus, posting these updates is fun!

My original name for last week’s post was …”And now we wait …” Why the wait, and what would we have been waiting for?  A couple years ago, based on scant evidence and an ability to count by threes, I made the bold* prediction that 2020 would be a strong year for late running kokanee.  As I’ve probably mentioned in earlier posts, I am especially interested in a population of kokanee that shows up after the sockeye are mostly gone … a boundary date I’ve chosen somewhat arbitrarily to be November 1st.  Before that date both sockeye and residuals are likely to be in the system and can at least potentially interbreed, after that date all or nearly all of the nerka in the system are “kokanee” (“mystery nerka” as I call them, as befits their uncertain relationship to sockeye and residuals).  These breed with each other almost exclusively because they arrive after the sockeye and can run as late as January.  The reason for the “wait” is these kokanee typically show up late, and what we were waiting for was “mystery nerka.”  Why a strong year in 2020?  Well … 2011 was a very strong year, I have no clue what went on in 2014, and 2017 was a very strong year.  Since kokanee typically have a 3 year life-cycle that suggested 2020 would be strong as well. 

[* Given the challenges of predicting fish returns, almost any prediction is “bold” – no intellectual valor on my part is implied]

I am naming this post “The plot thickens, but the roles remain the same.”  We saw “kokanee” arriving in good numbers early this year.  That wasn’t surprising given the promising reports from Lake Washington anglers.  These fish came up with the sockeye, inhabited the same spawning areas, and are what I would call “likely residuals.” What’s unusual this year, relative to 2017, is that the late surge of kokanee started building about October 20 and now, on my arbitrary 11/1 cut-off date, these mystery nerka are already packed at the mouth of Little Bear and lower North Creek!  (See the video linked below for evidence from today – the meter stick at the beginning is to allow me to estimate size)

The large number of mystery nerka already present could mean 1) that the late run is shifted early relative to 2017, or 2) we are on the leading edge of an army of kokanee the likes of which may not have graced our shores since 1917 (I’m referring to the opening of the Ballard locks, not the Russian revolution … that was a different Red army).  Time, and the sharp eyes of salmon watchers, will tell. 

“The roles remain the same” refers to a curious similarity between 2020 and 2017 that makes the late run of kokanee unusual.  I was able to get out in today’s good weather and spend some time on Little Bear and North Creek.  Standing at the mouth of Little Bear and watching hundreds of kokanee jostling for position and a place to spawn, one might expect a decent number to make the turn into Little Bear and perfectly fine spawning water upstream.  After all, I regularly see “kokanee” with sockeye in most years, and earlier this year there were plenty of kokanee/residuals along with the sockeye as far upstream as I looked (Rotary Park).  Despite the huge numbers of kokanee at the mouth, my survey at Rotary Park today yielded no nerka, sockeye or kokanee, alive or dead.  Nor were there any recent redds in areas where fish had been spawning just a couple weeks ago.  That seems weird, but it is exactly what happened in 2017!  Both sockeye and kokanee/residuals were well up Little Bear in October, but no significant movement of kokanee into Little Bear in November despite literally hundreds at the mouth during the late run!  North Creek at and below 522 is currently stacked with late running kokanee that have surged in during the last week along with more upstream, exactly as happened in 2017. [The situation with North Creek is a little complicated.  There is a willow obstruction just above 522 that slows fish down.  It’s passable but probably difficult – often sockeye and kokanee end up spawning in the poor-quality habitat below it.  We’ll see how many of the fish currently at the mouth manage to get upstream]. 

My speculation?  There is a strong cohort of late running kokanee that spawn in North Creek and the large spawning area at the mouth of Little Bear.  Why they don’t seem to stray up Little Bear is hard to say.  It is worth noting that during the big run of 2011 there were kokanee spawning elsewhere in the Sammamish river.  Roger Tabor from the US Fish and Wildlife survey did some sampling of this run and reported kokanee well up into Redmond. [I also walked sections of Lyon and McAleer creeks while dropping off my ballot.  Both are distressingly barren of any nerka but, given the decent spawning habitat and good lake conditions, that seems like a solvable problem (a topic for another post …)]

Here are a couple challenges for you Salmon Watchers!

  • Prove me wrong about the absence of late run kokanee in Little Bear in the area from McClendon’s through Rotary Park. Let me know if you don’t see any kokanee (here’s where data about absence is useful), or if you do.  I’d rather be wrong than ignorant about what’s going on there.
  • Check out upstream sections of the Sammamish river and a few other places to see if kokanee are spawning or holding there as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to get up there.  Roger Tabor sent me the following information about where he saw kokanee in 2011 (note – the run was really late that year).  I would love to know what’s happening at these sites.



Dates sampled





Bear Creek

downstream of Novelty Hill Rd

December 13




moderate numbers

Sammamish River


December 9,15




large numbers

May Creek

just downstream of I-405

November 17




just a few fish

Sammamish River

Leary Way Bridge

December 15




moderate numbers

Sammamish River

85th Bridge

December 9,15




just a few fish

Based on the fact that I was only able to collect two measly carcasses all HeronPredationLowResyear in 2019, I spoke some smack about otters killing off kokanee.  Today was a good reminder of other predators that are happy to have a kokanee meal.  I collected one kokanee at the mouth of Little Bear today (top at right).  It was very fresh and, as you can see, it had a v-shaped hole in its side near the dorsal fin.  This is actually very common in the dead kokanee I find, and in live but wounded kokanee I see drifting by.  In fact, the very next kokanee I collected (in North Creek) had similar v-shaped wounds in similar places, but with two punctures instead of one (the one in front is from my spear).  In an earlier post I provided another example.  This is almost certainly heron predation – they are easily able to consume a whole kokanee (click here for an excellent illustration of ambitious predation from Kenmore Photographer Dave Peterson).

But let’s not let otters off the hook.  Later in the day I came upon this gruesome spectacle in the UWB wetlands. At least two kokanee had beenotters killed and partly eaten.  I was able to get tissue samples from both, but otoliths from only one.  The other had had its brains consumed (salmon brains are a welcome treat for many mammalian carnivores) and, along with them, the otoliths.  These carcasses were fresh.  If it helps set the scene for you, these brains would have been devoured on Halloween … amid wisps of marsh fog … under a full moon.

The grim tableau at right awaited be at the mouth of North Creek.  Two old sockeye in the area, plus two kokanee, and not an eyeball to be found.  This Gullssuggests the handiwork of gulls, or perhaps crows.  Gulls seem to target eyeballs with particular zeal, and will even peck the eyeballs out of living salmon.

On that happy image, I bid you adieu until next week!


October 18, 2020:  

Well, we’ve hit the big-time (or at least the locally-visible-time)!  UW Bothell has published an article about the SalmonWatchers program on the UWB website, and a videographer came out from UW Seattle to put together a short video starring some of you (or maybe the salmon … not sure who gets top billing).  Thanks again to those who shared their enthusiasm with the interviewers.  You can see the article, and the embedded video, here:

Komo news also did interviews, but I haven’t heard anything back from them.  At the suggestion of Orlay (North Creek watcher) I wrote a short blurb about the program for the regional newsletter of the American Fisheries Society … we’ll see what happens.

Sockeye/kokanee continue to be the stars of the salmon show locally, and the mouth of Little Bear Creek continues to be the hottest spot to see them.    I was wrong last week when I said there had been no sightings of sockeye in North Creek above the UWB wetlands … Terry had seen some just upstream of 405, and since then others have spotted them as well.  Excellent news!  I kayaked the Sammamish with a couple students from Wilmot-Gateway park to Brackett’s Landing looking for carcasses and managed to find three sockeye and one kokanee.  It always amazes me that there can be a couple hundred fish dying at Little Bear and so few show up down stream.  Anyway, I considered that a success.  Not long after I got a report from one of you that there was a new carcass at the mouth of Little Bear and, when I went out on Thursday I found several more. Feeling optimistic, I bushwhacked through a good chunk of Little Bear below 522 (no fish, alive or dead), then walked through a section of Rotary Park (just upstream of 522).  Jackpot – 4 carcasses (two sockeye, two kokanee) and about 10 live fish! Here’s some video of mostly kokanee at the mouth of Little Bear.

As many of you know, I am very interested in the origins of these fish we are calling “kokanee,” but it’s still not clear how they relate to the native kokanee that were here originally, or to the sockeye that were planted in the lake later (first in 1917 and, successfully, in the 1930’s).  I often call the kokanee we are seeing now “residuals” because they can potentially interbreed with the sockeye so they may just be a part of the sockeye population.  “Kokanee/residual” numbers seem to have increased dramatically in recent years, but why? One possible reason sockeye would become residuals is if there was a barrier to them migrating out the locks.  “Thermal barriers” – i.e. water that is too warm, could be preventing adult sockeye from returning, but are unlikely to prevent out-migrating sockeye young because they depart in the spring when the water is still cool.  Aaron Bosworth at WDFW is really interested in this in the impact of thermal barriers on adults.  Another possibility that I will float without much evidence yet is that natural selection is favoring a kokanee lifestyle because ocean conditions and/or the locks partly prevent ocean-going adults from returning – sockeye that stay in Lake Washington may have a higher chance of reproducing!  Now here’s the kicker.  According to Aaron Bosworth there is no uptick in the numbers of kokanee/residuals in the Cedar river where the big sockeye hatchery is.  Why “kokanee” at our end of the lake, but not in the Cedar?  More speculation … The Cedar river run of sockeye is about 40% hatchery, and much of the natural production likely came from hatchery parents.  Hatchery managers are not going to propagate kokanee at the Cedar but they will propagate sockeye – in the Cedar there is selection against kokanee/residuals (there is a genetic component to becoming residuals) in favor of sockeye (which, sadly, return in low numbers but get replaced with more sockeye at the hatchery).  Armchair theorizing at the computer is always fun, especially since I spent all morning in the rain.

Why was I in the rain all morning?  I’m glad you asked!  I took some students up to Gold Creek pond near Snoqualmie pass.  Kokanee migrate up in impressive numbers to spawn near the pond, and people migrate up in impressive numbers to eat lunch, walk around the pond, and have wedding photos taken.  The pond itself is nice, and much prettier than its origins as a gravel pit would suggest, but the real beauty is in the outflow stream (hint: if you visit, go downstream to avoid people and see more fish in a more natural setting).  Another bonus is the water is very clear and great for underwater photography – much nicer than the tea-colored water of the Sammamish and Little Bear.  Check out this video I took on the weekend:

I think it would be really fun for us to have a “get-together” after the salmon watching season is over.  I’ve met some of you, but many I haven’t.  Now that I seem to spend 27 hours/day in zoom calls and teaching zoom classes I feel competent to set something up.  Maybe small breakout rooms where people on the same stream can chat, then all together so we can share stories and plan for next year.  Let’s plan on early December sometime.  I will send around some possible dates and times to see what works best.

October 12, 2020:  

Happy late, late Sunday!  We are now solidly into sockeye season and, as expected, the mouth of Little Bear is seeing the most action.  I managed to get out and do some carcass sampling on Friday before the big rains (if reality TV ever stoops to “America’s Smelliest Kayak” I will be a strong contender).  I picked up five fish in the waning daylight – one male and three female On_SR_20_10_09_01to5Reducedsockeye, and a female kokanee.  The male is easy to distinguish by his hooked snout and “shoulder” hump.  The jaws are obviously good for fighting to get mating opportunities, but why the big hump?  For whatever reason, large humps are very attractive to female sockeye and improve mating success.  Females can regulate the number of eggs they release when spawning, and will actually release more eggs when spawning with an attractive male.  The hump comes at a cost to the male, though.  In addition to the extra energy required to build and move it, a large hump makes males more susceptible to predators.  The best studied examples are in Western Alaska where most adult sockeye enter small, shallow streams frequented by hungry brown bears.  If humps get too big, LakeSpawnersthe ease with which predators can capture males outweighs the benefits of attracting females so smaller streams usually have less humped males.  At the other extreme, sockeye that spawn in lakes don’t have to worry about bears to their humps and body depth can be bizarre as you can in the lake spawning male from Alaska in the lower photo (taken by Tom Quinn at UWS).  Those of you who have watched salmon spawning may be wondering how they can spawn in lakes when the eggs typically need current.  Upwelling springs may be sufficient, or even just the agitation of waves.  Lake Washington once had genetically and morphologically distinct beach spawning sockeye along south-facing beaches (facing winter storms) – especially around Enetai beach but also a few other places.  Little is known about the current status of these populations, but there has been a lot of shoreline habitat disruption.

We have reports of sockeye in lower North Creek (around 522), in Little Bear, and of course the Bear Creek system which is the largest producer.  North Creek often does well but, despite numerous people watching, sockeye have not yet been reported upstream of the UWB wetlands.  I haven’t had a chance to look through the wetlands recently but will soon.  There’s a major willow tree obstruction near 522, and likely several beaver dams in the wetlands, so movement of sockeye can be slowed down.  The recent rain might have helped – I will let you know.

Thanks for all the reports and enthusiasm!

October 4, 2020:  

Well, it’s been a not so quiet week here in Lake Wobeg.. Washington and surrounding areas.  McAleer creek, once again came through with chinook and, once again, our intrepid watcher at Animal Acres park got video of it jumping over a log.  In what will likely be the most bizarre finding of the season, a pink/humpy salmon was found in lower McAleer creek!  To get a sense of how bizarre that is … pink salmon are not found in the Lake Washington system except as rare strays AND pink salmon in our area only run in odd numbered years!  This fish was seriously confused!  My guess is McAleerPinkthat it started hanging out with the wrong crowd (sockeye), succumbed to peer pressure and followed them into Lake Washington, then tried to make up for a lifetime of poor decisions by making due with a suboptimal stream in a failed attempt at completing its life’s work [It’s possible I’m projecting my own anxieties as the father of teenage daughters].  The person who found it was not yet a salmon watcher so she didn’t save the carcass but she’s promised to search the stream for it.

Chinook are still showing and the hotspots have been Cottage Lake creek and Bear Creek. One of our watchers on Cottage Lake creek got some excellent video that you can see at the links below:

Sockeye and, especially, kokanee are present in good numbers in the Sammamish at the mouth of Little Bear Creek.  They are spawning in close in the shallows and are hanging out in the deeper water above so, if you want a for-sure look at salmon that’s the place to go at present.  I have an underwater camera with a 100′ cord that I deployed out there today.  Here are a couple still to give you a sense of what’s out there.  The first picture shows a full male kokaneee so you can see how spotted they are.  The second image is just the tail end of a sockeye (no spots) and kokanee so you can see the difference. KokaneeFull


Here’s a video of some of the action (someday I’ll adjust the contrast, etc.)!

While I was at Little Bear a mortally wounded kokanee drifted by … my first carcass collection of the season.  By the look of it the fish had been grabbed by a heron or a raptor  and left with some serious holes …


KOMO news came out to do some interviews at McAleer Creek, and UW Bothell Communications interviewed several folks at several sites for use in a UWB video.  Thanks to all of you for helping spread the word!  I will let you know once I hear anything back about either!

September 27, 2020:  

Happy Sunday, Salmon Watchers!

It’s been an interesting week for salmon watching!  Streams were pretty low early in the week, and we had reports of chinook in Swamp Creek near the bowling alley on Tuesday.  Looking back at the Salmon Watchers reports for Swamp Creek from 2000-2015 I saw NO chinook reports, so that’s an encouraging sign. Yesterday Trevor sent me a text reporting “two huge chinook” in McAleer Creek.  For those of you who don’t know McAleer, it’s a pretty small stream so having huge chinook moving through is pretty exciting.  What’s even better is he got video!  Check it out:

As with Swamp Creek, chinook sightings in McAleer are rare.  It was encouraging to have a pair coming up together.  I came down so I could get a little underwater footage.

Those of you who know your fish anatomy will something missing … the little fatty fin called that adipose fin that would normally be between the dorsal fin and the tail.  That tell us that the fish was produced in a hatchery, not in the stream itself.  Hatchery produced salmon usually have their adipose fin cut off when they are released and quite small.  This allows anglers to distinguish them from “wild” – i.e. naturally produced – chinook.  Only hatchery chinook, those that have their adipose fin removed, may be kept in most cases.

For more info on adipose marking, check out:

If you wonder how it’s possible to cut the adipose off of hundreds of thousands of fish, meet the marking and tagging trailer:

I still have not seen any sockeye, but a few have been reported.  I was down at the mouth of Little Bear today and lots of medium fish were jSalmonUnsucc copyumping … could be sockeye or kokanee, but I never got much of a look.  Fingers crossed for clearer sightings soon.  Here’s a picture of a sockeye almost, but not quite, making it through a beaver dam on North Creek a couple years ago.


September 20, 2020:  

Even though a sent a Sunday update on Friday, here’s another one.

Just after I sent the e-mail on Friday, I got a report of both a kokanee and a sockeye on Bear Creek … they should be showing up elsewhere soon.  To give you a sense of what you may see here’s a video taken by John Shanley, one of our salmon watchers, in Swamp Creek in 2008 or 2009.  Like this year, both 2008 and 2009 had low runs (2008 – 34K, 2009 = 23K, 2020 = 23K.  For comparison, before 2006 runs were typically over 100K and sometimes over 500K.)

I have posted pictures of otoliths (below) in case you want to take a look.  You’re unlikely to find them in the field, but they provide lots of useful information.

I’ve gotten some questions and concerns about blockages on the streams (from brush, trees, beaver dams, etc.).  We are not allowed to remove or alter them ourselves (lots of permitting involved in altering stream flow).  On the plus side, adult salmon are remarkably good at getting around obstacles and the stream debris forms pools and structure that is really helpful for young salmon.  If you see a really concerning obstacle you can report it to the city – they may be able to move it if the obstruction presents a flooding risk. 

Annissa reported a “National Geographic moment” today on Little Bear well above the mouth.  Two salmon came through, followed by a third that was being chased at high speed by an otter.  Otters are our nemesis (however cute they might be).  Another salmonwatcher reported seeing a pile of salmon eggs surrounded by otter prints.  Greedy little devils.

Lynn spotted an unidentified salmon with a red tag near its dorsal fin.  That was likely a chinook – the Muckleshoot tribe often marks chinook down near the Ballard Locks to track where they go. From the description, it floy_tagsounds like it was a “Floy” tag (see attached picture).  I have also seen chinook in the Sammamish with “Peterson Disc” tags which are round disks usually attached through the body near the dorsal fin.  I’ve attached a picture I took in Western Alaska of a PetersonTagsockeye with the Peterson Tag while I was visiting a fisheries class.  Tom Quinn, a fisheries biologist at UW Seattle, has his students tag fish at the mouth of a small stream and track their progress and longevity moving up.  Students and faculty have a betting pool on which fish will last the longest.

Cheers, Jeff

September 19, 2020:  

We’ve had our first reports of Sockeye and Kokanee – both from Bear OtolithsCreek!  Also, some folks peering at otter scat have wondered what otoliths look like and whether they will be able to see them.  Here’s a picture so you know what they look like.  They will be smaller than a typical grain of rice.  Will you be able to see them in the otter scat?  Unlikely.  Given all the fish bones, crayfish shells, and who knows what else, the otoliths won’t be very conspicuous.  I usually find them by vigorously swirling that scat around in water and seeing what drops out (the otoliths are very dense).  It’s like panning for gold, except the nuggets you find are nuggets of information!

September 18, 2020, (Friday is the new) Sunday Summary:  

I’m sending the “Sunday” update out early because there’s a good chance of rain today and tomorrow.  So …

  • Safety first.  Some of the streams rise pretty quickly so if water levels look too high for safe viewing don’t survey – you’re unlikely to see much in high water anyway.
  • On the plus side, there are probably fish lingering in Kenmore Bay waiting for rainfall before moving up.  Soon after the water drops and clears is an excellent time to see who has moved up.  My guess is we’ll see our first sockeye/kokanee on this rainfall or not long after.

JackChin_NC_9_16_20Other news – We’re seeing chinook in the Sammamish and in North Creek.  I got a report of two live chinook in lower North Creek on Monday.  When I went to check it out on Tuesday I found two full size carcasses, plus a “jack” (see picture – the ruler is 6″).  Jacks are males who shorten their time at sea and come back at a small size (“Jills” are less common, for a variety of interesting reasons).  Jacks are less successful at courting females and fighting full size males, but this can be a successful strategy because they can “sneak” in and fertilize eggs laid by a female being courted by a larger male.  The Lake Washington system even has some “precocious parr” chinook – males that sexually mature at a really small size and attempt to mate before going out to the ocean.  As a reminder that size isn’t always a reliable way of identifying fish, the jack I found in North Creek is about the smallest chinook jack I’ve ever seen (though too big to be a precocious parr.  If I had a permit to collect chinook otoliths and good budget, we could find out for sure by looking at trace chemicals in the otoliths to tell whether or not it had been to sea).

As I mentioned earlier, high temperatures are a major, and worsening, problem for returning adults.  I put a temperature logger in lower North Creek that will record temperature every 15 minutes.

Several of you have reported smaller fish in your streams.  The fish in the 2-4 inch range are likely either coho or cutthroat (possibly chinook, though less likely).  I will try to get out with an underwater camera to see.  The larger small fish (look like 8-10” in the photos, but hard to tell), are probably larger cutthroat, but I’m hoping to get some pictures of those as well.  Here’s a link to an underwater video I took in Lyon Creek last November.  Almost all the fish you see are young coho, but one is a cutthroat (look for the spots on the dorsal fin):

Be sure to indicate that you have read and understood the waiver if you haven’t already.

UWB is interested in writing an article about the salmon watching project for the website and possibly doing some other outreach activities.  If you’d be up for being interviewed about the experience or your thoughts, let me know and I will pass your info along (don’t be shy!).  If you want to see what the web articles are like and hear more about fish (who wouldn’t) you can see a recent article they did on one of my other projects here:

I’ve gotten my first batch of otter poop from one of our intrepid salmon watchers – awesome.  Keep an eye out and let me know if you see more.  Otters tend to reuse the same places so it can be pretty conspicuous (to the dismay of many an absentee boat owner).

Cheers, and have a great weekend!  Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

September 13, 2020, Sunday Summary:  My plan is to send a Sunday update (also posted on the website) with news about our salmon watching activities.  I will send this to everybody who completed the initial interest survey whether or not you ended up participating.  If you’d like to be removed from the weekly e-mails please let me know.

A few bits of logistics …

  1. This afternoon I sent notes to everybody who completed the second survey and was specific about their preferred stream.  If you received one of these e-mails check to see if I have a location listed for you.  If I don’t please send me you location or let me know if you need help;
  2. Some people were willing to go to any of several streams.  I didn’t e-mail you, but here’s where we stand as far as watchers at streams: Thornton (2), McAleer (4), Lyon (3), Swamp (3), Waynita (1), North (6), Little Bear (2), Bear (1), May (1).  Any of these streams can absorb more watchers.  Swamp could use watchers in the lower regions (around the bowling alley; Squire’s landing is too deep); Little Bear could use watchers farther upstream (e.g. Rotary Park), Bear has lots of places to watch and will likely get the greatest number of fish (see the locations listed at Salmon Seeson).  I didn’t include Denny Creek on Finn Hill, but that might also be interesting.  There were some salmon spawning habitat enhancements done, but I haven’t heard about follow-up.  Go ahead and re-submit the second survey.
  3. If you completed the first survey but not the second, let me know if you’d like to join in by completing the second survey and indicating a preferred stream and location (in the comments) – we’d love to have you! Here’s a link to the survey:  And here’s a link to our webpage: (
  4. If you’ve decided not to participate this year – no worries!  Feel free to check out the website for updates and keep it in mind for next year.

OK – here’s what’s happened in the last week:

I’ve received a handful of reports – thanks!.  No sockeye or kokanee were seen (no surprise, it’s early.  They should show up soon). One chinook carcass was found (see attached picture) – unfortunately it was a female still full of eggs.  High temperatures in the Sammamish are a major challenge.

I found another chinook carcass in a drone survey at the mouth of Little Bear, but other than that I haven’t seen anything this week (I was out of town Monday through Friday).  I spoke with the regional salmon biologist for WDFW earlier this week.  They will be doing surveys for pre-spawning mortality of chinook in Bear and Cottage Lake creeks, but not in our streams.  I told him I would pass along our findings.

We should start seeing sockeye in a week or two in some streams.

I’m keen to find piles of otter scat for a student project.  If you see good amounts let me know – it will likely have  a combination of fish bones and crayfish shell.  I’ve attached a picture for you to enjoy.

Cheers, and thanks for the help! Jeff

September 7, 2020.  Our first reported salmon sighting was a dead chinook (note the lack of red and the spots on upper and lower tail).  Unfortunately, this is a female that has not yet spawned – you can tell from the full looking belly.  Pre-spawning mortality (PSM) is a major concern in urban streams.  There are various causes, including chemical pollution and heat stress.  The Sammamish, in particular, has dangerously high temperatures late in the summer.  WDFW biologists are survey Bear and Cottage Lake creeks for chinook PSM, but not most of our streams.  I have passed this information to them, and will share future reports of chinook PSM.  There’s a good chance that we’ll see PSM in coho later in the fall.


September 6, 2020.  The LIABILITY WAIVER is POSTED HERE, and you can link to a form to acknowledge that you have read it, understand it, and accept it (all required for participation) HERE.

September 5, 2020

  • Thank you to all of you who were able to make today’s zoom meeting!  Please feel to let me know if you have questions.
  • If you have signed up but were unable to attend – Welcome!   
  • If you have not signed up to be a North Tribs Salmon Watcher don’t worry –  it’s never too late!  You can see some background on what we’re up to and instructions for signing up here

We held our first ZOOM meeting September 5, 2020.  If you weren’t able to attend the meeting, or just want to review it, here are links to: