Field Notes: Snorkeling with Sockeye

Channel Creek flows through magnificent old growth National Forest and into the top of Baker Lake. The cloudy weather and changing fall colors made it a perfect western Washington day to visit the sockeye salmon. My anticipation was building for what would be my first time observing sockeye in a natural setting. As soon as we pulled up I jumped out of the car to peer down at the creek. There they were! The vibrant red color of the sockeye instantly made them the centerpiece of the forest’s beauty. DSC02293_edited-1
A sprinkle of rain wouldn’t bother us once we got into our drysuits and pulled on thick neoprene hoods and gloves. I put on my mask, adjusted my snorkel and plopped down into the creek. The crystal clear spring water looked blue beneath the surface. Our suits provided plenty of buoyancy, allowing us to be gently carried downstream, grabbing on to rocks or sticks when we wanted to stop. The sockeye looked larger underwater. They scattered in our presence, moving swiftly, and regrouping in deeper pools. I was able to get up close with more than a few of their goofy faces despite their speed. 
Bobbing along, we carefully avoided disturbing noticeable redds. Previous visitors had marked some redds and we distinguished others by the color of newly uncovered rocks. I was lucky to witness one or two fish burying their eggs. Channel Creek is one of very few remaining places in Washington where sockeye salmon continue to spawn naturally. However, they do receive some help getting past the dams. The salmon gather at the base of the Lower Baker Dam and wait to be loaded up into a container for transportation by truck to the lake. Considering how far they would have already swam, it seems like the least we could do. Snorkeling with the sockeye was an unforgettable experience that put me in their perspective. I now understand why it might be worth the exhausting return to this beautiful place in order to give their young the opportunity to do the same one day.

by Volunteer Hanna Jones; October 1, 2015

Photos by Hanna Jones

See footage of Hanna’s underwater adventures with Channel Creek sockeye on our Facebook page



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