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Mystery surrounds lone Auburn Ravine salmon

Outdoors
By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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Okay, so it was only one fish — and probably a stray — but a large Chinook (king) salmon was spotted in the Auburn Ravine on Monday… the first one in many years. Richard R. Harris, Ph.D., Edmund Sullivan and Lisa Thompson saw the fish at the Fowler Bridge on the Ravine, which crosses the stream north of Highway 193 about 4 miles upstream of Lincoln. “It was so fun to see that fish,” said an excited Thompson. “I was looking for fish all day, and hadn’t seen any until then. We saw the fish as we looked down from the bridge, on the downstream side. There is a large, deep pool there. I think we were about 30 feet above the fish and it was large — I would say it was in the same size range as the spring-run Chinook on Butte Creek. It was a dark red-brown color. Based on color and size I’m pretty sure it was a Chinook — it was a lot darker and chunkier than steelhead I’ve seen. There may have been some fungus on the top of the caudal fin, but otherwise the fish looked to be in very good condition.” Sullivan agreed with Thompson’s assessment: “It was definitely not a steelhead – the fish was too big,” he said. Harris added that the fish appeared to be in good condition — “The fish looked good to me, active and no visible damage,” he said. So, you have three trained sets of eyes that saw the fish and agreed it was a Chinook salmon. The next big question, of course, is where did it come from? Late March is awfully late for fall-run Chinook to show up — almost unheard of, in fact. I suppose it could have been a late fall fish from the Sacramento, but we’re well past the peak of that migration as well. The timing better corresponds with winter-run Chinook of the Sacramento River, but those fish are so rare these days, it seems a bit odd that one would turn up so far from home. The last two weeks of March certainly correspond with the beginning of the Valley’s spring Chinook run. As the Auburn Ravine empties into the Sacramento River just below the mouth of the Feather River, one could argue that the Ravine’s salmon was a springer bound for the Feather or Yuba rivers and simply “pulled off the freeway” one exit too early. Of course, the only problem with that theory is the fact that spring Chinook enter the rivers in pristine condition — chrome bright and fat. Though they move into freshwater in the spring, they won’t spawn until October at the earliest. To survive that long without feeding, springers pack on tons of extra fat and move upstream extremely quickly. To that end, it seems unlikely that a fish spotted near Lincoln would already be all colored up. Well, anyway… it’s fun to speculate. It’s even cooler to think that at least one king has found the Ravine to its liking. Thanks to the work of Jack Sanchez and all the fine folks at Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead (www.sarsas.org), our one fish — and hopefully many more in the upcoming years — will have better access to the spawning gravels of the upper Auburn Ravine. SARSAS has been working diligently to get all dams removed or fitted with fish passage and so far their efforts have been a big success. Sometime this year, the last big barrier on the stream, the Gold Hill Diversion Dam, is slated to be retrofitted for salmon passage and when that is complete salmon will have free and clear access all the way to Ophir. Hopefully in the future spotting a salmon in the Auburn Ravine won’t be a big deal at all… J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate, and his outdoors pieces have been published nationally. He can be found on the Web at www.fishwithjd.com.