For the past week the sockeye salmon have been gathering at the mouth of Brooks River in Naknek Lake. This has surprised me – the fact that they are still in the lake and haven’t moved upriver yet after a full week. Yes, there have been a few scattered fish that have indeed moved up the river to jump for their lives up Brooks Falls, but the majority of them appear to still be in the lake.
What are they waiting for? This is the question on many people’s minds, but it probably will never be answered with much certainty. For although we study the salmon, and know what they do and more or less when they do it, we cannot ask them why they do it. Why do they return to their exact spawning grounds? How do they know how to get there? What senses do sockeye salmon possess to enable them to move across thousands of miles of ocean, to return to that one singular body of fresh water, that tributary of a stream that is a tributary of a river, which is the exact right place to spawn and then die? Is it the temperature of the water? The freshness or salinity? The angle of the sun? The earth’s electromagnetic field? Is there some acuteness of the sea’s odor present for them to follow? How do they know? Just how many sockeye salmon are out there in Naknek Lake, anyway?
Greater Yellowlegs looking for dinner
For the past couple of days I have been stationed at either “the corner” or the lower river platform. Both these places afford an excellent location from which to view the river, bears, birdlife, and fish. Jumping salmon have been seen in the lake since they arrived there, but today I watched as particularly large splashes of fish moved ever so slowly further and further upstream, away from the lake and up the mouth of the river. It took what seemed to be one large splash all day to go perhaps 35 yards. Was it the same fish all this time? I do not know. I was told that the salmon prefer to move during the darker hours of the day when the sun isn’t present to cast shadows. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, today would have been a great time to move since it was raining a good part of the day.
There are a few more brown bears that have recently returned to Brooks River, too. Not 40 or 50 yet but maybe 6 or 8 are making their presence known; they are looking for what they know must get here, what must ultimately serve to nourish them in order for them to withstand the long Alaska winter that will inevitably come. When the salmon are finally in Brooks River by the tens of thousands, moving ceaselessly upstream to whatever pocket of river or lake gravels they are destined to find, only then will the bears fully enter the scene.
We are all waiting for the salmon.
Some people are beating the bears at their own game and are already having freshly-caught Brooks River salmon for dinner – caught with the “thump and retain” method (no catch-and-release for these anglers), boned and filleted and pan-fried with a fine blend of herbs and spices. What was flown in from Anchorage was definitely not the fish but the box wine – the perfect accompaniment for a cheerful evening with co-workers. My compliments to chef Imes and his spice shelf.
There has got to be a way to get some shipped to MY FAVORITE TRAVEL AGENT by the end of the summer.
Early morning on Naknek Lake