Sockeye Salmon Once Spawned
by Pete Zimowsky
Q: Before the dams were built on the Payette River (Black Canyon and Cascade) how far up the river did salmon and steelhead run?
LARRY C., e-mail
A: What an incredible resource was lost when they built Black Canyon and Cascade dams.
Sockeye salmon migrated all the way up the Snake River into the Payette River system and then up the North Fork of the Payette River into Valley County.
The book "Fishes of Idaho" by James Simpson and Richard Wallace says sockeye spawned in the tributaries of Payette Lake.
That is really something incredible to think about.
Typically, sockeye spawn in the tributaries of lakes, and the young fish are reared in the lakes.
That's why you also have sockeye migrating up the Salmon River all the way to Redfish Lake and other lakes in the Stanley Basin.
Sockeye also migrated up the South Fork of the Salmon River, eventually to Warm Lake.
Biologists theorize that steelhead and salmon historically migrated up the Payette River and the North and South Forks of the Payette.
The fish also migrated up the Snake River to Shoshone Falls near Twin Falls and up the Boise, Weiser and Owyhee river drainages - the Owyhee River all the way up into Nevada.
I remember talking to an old-timer who said people speared salmon with pitchforks below Black Canyon Dam and in the nearby canals.
It's a sad legacy that Idaho's magnificent salmon and steelhead runs took a back seat to dams.
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