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Spawning Salmon Lead Biologists to Issue a Redd Alert

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, September 6, 2001

ELK CITY -- The salmon fishing season is long past but the fish finally are getting to the business that motivated them to swim some 500 miles up the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Spring chinook are spawning in tributaries of the Clearwater and Salmon rivers, delighting anglers and wildlife watchers alike.

"This is the time of year to observe spring chinook spawning and they do that in high elevation streams," said Ed Schriever, regional fisheries biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston.

In some streams, like the Red and American rivers, both near Elk City, salmon can be spotted from the road. But they also can be found in numerous low-gradient tributaries such as the upper Selway or the headwaters of the Lochsa River. Creeks that tumble down steep canyons may have obstacles that prevent chinook passage and spawning.

With a little care and tact the fish can easily be observed without disturbing the spawning process.

Schriever recommends approaching salmon from downstream so they won't see you.

He also said a pair of polarized sun glasses will make them easier to see and a pair of binoculars can also be helpful. Those who wish to photograph spawning salmon will get better pictures if they use a polarized lens filter.

The fishing season on spring chinook closed last month and many of the fish are visibly deteriorating. Spawned out chinook often can be seen in the streams and on banks. Their bodies will add nutrients to the water and help nourish their offspring.

Those still alive are competing for spawning territory and mates. The males challenge each other for the right to fertilize the eggs of females and can often be seen chasing each other around the shallow streams and even butting each other or tugging on the tail of a rival. Those who want to watch the spawning process should observe a few simple rules, according to Schriever. The fish are protected while spawning and many are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened species.

"You don't want to do such foolish things as throw rocks or sticks. They don't need to be harassed," he said. "You definitely want to avoid walking over the top of a redd."

Female salmon dig a hole or nest in the gravely bottoms of streams. The fish lay their eggs in the trough where they are fertilized by males and then covered by the female.

The result is a mound of gravel called a redd.

"The creation of that mound makes water flow through the redd to keep eggs oxygenated while they incubate," said Schriever.

The eggs will stay nestled in the redds through the winter and hatch in the spring.

The young fish will eventually emerge from the gravel and spend the next year in fresh water before migrating to the ocean the following spring.

If they make it to the ocean, they'll spend one to three years there before making the arduous return to spawn and complete their life cycle.

Because salmon spend hours or days digging their redds, they show up as clean, bright spots on creek bottoms. Redds vary from about 3 feet to 9 feet in length and the mound often has a trough in front of it.

A single pair of salmon can make a redd or several pairs can spawn in the same area.

"Sometimes entire reaches of gravel are stirred up," said Schriever.

Eric Barker
Spawning Salmon Lead Biologists to Issue a Redd Alert
Lewiston Tribune, September 6, 2001

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