Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Odd Jobs (10/22/09 - 10/28/09)

"Turtle rescue" isn't on the official list of duties for Salmon River Stewards, but when covering an area as large as the Salmon River, sometimes unexpected tasks come our way. For me, Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman, the normal walk along the train tracks on my way into the Schoeller fishing access site got pretty interesting when I nearly tripped over a large snapping turtle that had somehow gotten itself hung up on one of the tracks.

This turtle got more than he bargained for when he tried to "ride the rails" near the Schoeller fishing access site on the Salmon River. Photos by Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman.

I can't fathom how this turtle got itself into this predicament, but it didn't appear able to move itself off of the track. These are active train tracks, so as much as I don't normally seek to place my hands near a large snapping turtle, I did feel compelled to move him off of the tracks. I learned a great deal about how far snapping turtles' necks can extend, and just how quickly they can lunge when they feel threatened; not to mention the size of their claws! However, after carefully assessing the situation, I did manage to move the heavy, slippery and ill-tempered turtle successfully, and I lost no fingers in the process.

The snapping turtle was successfully transferred to the side of the train tracks, after taking time to pose for a few close-up shots. Photos by Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman.

Elsewhere on the river, things are a bit quieter than they have been in recent weeks with salmon season continuing to wane; although salmon continue to be sought and caught on the upper river (including some beautiful coho salmon), many anglers on the lower river are reporting good things about the increasing number of steelhead and brown trout to be had. After the hectic pace of peak salmon season earlier this month, the more relaxed atmosphere on the river is a welcome change.

Watching the trains cross the bridge near the Schoeller fishing access location. Photo by Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff.

However, even with fewer people on the river, some problems have been observed. Particularly, the recent cold snap has made the idea of a warm fire appealing to some anglers; both myself and Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff witnessed open fires along the riverbanks this past Friday. Open fires are not allowed along the banks of the Salmon River, for several reasons: First, much of the public fishing access is accomplished through easements on otherwise private property, and fires and their remains are not appreciated by the private property owners. Second is the danger of an unattended fire spreading quickly because of the abundance of downed leaves, branches and pine needles along the river.

Though many of the birds have moved south as the weather chills, their nests, such as this one near Compactor Pool, remain. Photo by Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff.

When visiting the Salmon River you will most likely see signs posted in parking areas that describe the regulations which apply to most areas of the river. Anglers should always check the regulations before using each site, in order to better understand how they can responsibly use the site and minimize their impacts. These signs can also provide information about other important regulations, such as seasonal tackle restrictions in the fly fishing-only areas upstream, and the daily catch limits elsewhere. These regulations are also available for review in the current year's Freshwater Fishing Regulations; be sure to note the special sections regarding Great Lakes tributaries and the Salmon River specifically. Nobody wants to end their fishing day by receiving a ticket from a Conservation Officer. Regulations are created and enforced with the needs of the fish and the fishery in mind, to help keep fishing great now and into the future.

Dead salmon are a fact of life along the banks of the Salmon River at this time of year, as Pacific salmon die after spawning. Photo by Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman.

And, of course, if you ever have any questions about regulations on the river, or any other aspect of the river and its inhabitants, feel free to ask us if you see us!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oncorhynchus mykiss (10/15/09-10/21/09)

In the last week I, Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff, learned an invaluable life lesson. The best way to absorb new information is to be responsible for presenting that information to others. In five days, I lead or assisted with six educational programs at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery. School groups from Holland Patent, Cortland BOCES, Lowville, Homer, Central Square, and Morrisville College all learned about or witnessed coho Salmon spawning first-hand. When I began my position as a Salmon River Steward, I had very little knowledge about angling, spawning and the river in general. Now, just a few short weeks later, I've broadened my knowledge base more quickly than I thought possible, mostly thanks to my role as an educator.

Garter snake at Schoeller public fishing access location.
Photo by Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman.

Whenever I lead a tour or program I encourage people to ask a lot of questions. Of course, I am pleased when I know the answers to them, but when I don't, I see it as an opportunity to learn something new. Being an educator also means being a learner, and I'm still learning new bits of information every day that I work as a steward.

The forest floor along the Salmon River is beautiful in the fall! Top left: Maple leaf with water droplets. Top right: Fungus on a tree stump. Bottom left: Tree stump with beaver teeth marks. Bottom right: Sulfur shelf. Photos by Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff.

When I'm out on the Salmon River talking to anglers I hear a wide array of questions, comments, and concerns. Lately though, I keep hearing one comment again and again; "I can't wait for steelhead season!" Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman explains, "As colder weather sets in for the long haul, we also begin to see the transition from salmon season to steelhead season, a time many anglers have been anxiously anticipating. Fishermen this past weekend were already catching some beautiful brown trout and steelhead, and it sounds like we may have another great season on the way." In the last few days I've also noticed that more anglers are reporting catching steelhead. This hearty fish is often an angler favorite because of its "fighting" behavior when hooked. Steelhead tend to zigzag all over the river and jump into the air once they've taken their bait.

Witch Hazel flowers at Pineville. Witch Hazel is a common shrub along the Salmon River, and is unusual in that it flowers in the fall. Photo by Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman.

Steelhead are physically identical to rainbow trout, and are in fact the same species (Oncorhynchus mykiss). The difference lies in their behavior; while rainbow trout will inhabit a particular lake or stream throughout their life cycle, steelhead will migrate from open water up streams and tributaries to spawn. Although they spawn in the spring, steelhead begin entering tributaries in late summer and early fall, and feed heavily on salmon eggs. Unlike pacific salmon (such as the coho and chinook), steelhead do not die after spawning, and will instead "drop back" to the lake, remaining there until it is time to spawn once again.

Leaf shadows at Schoeller by Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman.
Fall foliage at Trout Brook by Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff.

Native to the Pacific Northwest, steelhead migrate between the ocean and nearby rivers. They have been stocked in New York State in the mid-1970s from egg stock received from Washington State. Currently all steelhead stocked in New York are raised from eggs collected at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery in Altmar, NY during the spring. In addition to Washington strain steelhead, stocking of Skamania (also called "summer-run") steelhead has been taking place with the goal of making the Salmon River a more year-round fishing destination. Skamania tend to enter the river earlier (occasionally as early as May, more frequently between June and September), and stay in the river later than Washington strain steelhead. Currently, the Salmon River is the only New York river stocked with Skamania by the New York State Department of Conservation.

View of the Salmon River at Pineville drift boat launch. Photo by Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff.

Whether you're enjoying the end of salmon season, anxiously waiting for steelhead season, or just curious about the area, there's always something to see and do in the Salmon River Corridor.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Jam-packed Columbus Day Weekend! (10/8/09-10/14/09)

Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff has been extremely busy this week leading educational programs at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery. The spawning process is well underway and the hatchery staff is approaching their quota for chinook eggs. On Monday, she gave an educational program to a group of Boy Scouts from the Boonville area. With several young fishermen in the group, the hatchery proved to be an exciting destination to learn about some of the biggest and best fish in the area. Unfortunately, because of the holiday there was little action in the "Spawn House," the room at the hatchery where the egg take process takes place. However, the boys and their chaperons were excited to take a tour of the Salmon River Falls Unique Area. The falls are breathtaking at this time of year and Liz recommends the view to anyone who has never visited before.

Boy Scouts and chaperons climb the stairs at the Salmon River Falls Unique Area. Photo by Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff.
Tuesday brought a group of students from Huntington in the Syracuse City School District out to the hatchery for a program. These students were fortunate to see artificial spawning taking place right before their eyes. The group asked many thoughtful questions about spawning and other aspects of the river, as did the large group of about 100 students from Homer on Wednesday. Wednesday's group braved the cold temperatures to learn about fish identification as well. Liz says that she even learned some really cool facts from the fish ID presentation; for example, she didn't know that fish have a special sensory organ called a lateral line. The lateral line usually runs from the gills to the tail along both sides of the fish. When closely examined, you can see that the scales of the lateral line have small holes in them with hair-like protrusions that help the fish sense vibrations and movements. This special organ is what allows fish to swim in large schools without bumping into the fish next to them. The lateral line is also important in helping the fish feel sudden vibrations that might signal danger.

A brilliant Red Maple along the Salmon River - peak salmon season coincided with peak fall foliage this year. Photo by Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman.

The Salmon River itself was a very busy place this past weekend, as Columbus Day weekend typically represents the peak of salmon season. Fish and fishermen were found in abundance, with many anglers coming from out of town to take advantage of the three-day weekend.

The Salmon River is the fourth most heavily-fished fishery in New York State in terms of angler effort, coming in behind only the two Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. One reason the Salmon River is such a popular fishing destination is because of the abundance of public fishing access--an overwhelming majority of the thirteen miles of river below the first dam is accessible to the public for fishing. But this isn't because the banks of the Salmon River are publicly owned (i.e. owned by New York State)--rather, most of the fishing access on the river is possible because Public Fishing Rights (PFRs) have been acquired on otherwise private land.

Recent wet weather has made a variety of mushrooms a common sight in the forests along the Salmon River. Photo by River Steward Greg Chapman.

PFRs are easements that allows public access on private land for the purpose of fishing, and only fishing--all other activities, such as camping and building fires, are prohibited. For a detailed summary of what PFRs are, and what is and isn't allowed, see this NYS Department of Environmental Conservation webpage. Because PFRs are located on otherwise private land, the concerns of the land's owner must be respected.

Many fishermen who come to the Salmon River respect the resource by minimizing their impacts on the land, and by carrying out what they carry in. Unfortunately, when a fishery is as heavily used as the Salmon River is during peak salmon season, some trash does get left behind. In some areas, the amount of empty coffee cups, aluminum cans and especially used fishing line, is somewhat disconcerting.

Litter left behind along the Salmon River. Photo by River Steward Greg Chapman.

As Stewards, we do take the time to try and clean up some of the hardest-hit areas--the trash is unsightly on the otherwise-beautiful river, and the spent fishing line can be harmful to the area's wildlife. We also see other fishermen who spend time collecting not only their own trash, but trash left behind by others as well. Efforts to keep the river clean can go a long way in making PFRs more attractive to private landowners who may be thinking about opening their land for fishing access elsewhere. So, the next time you fill your fish limit, why not try and fill a trash bag as well?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fall Fishing and Foliage! (10/1/09 - 10/7/09)

Salmon season is hitting its peak, and the river is packed with fishermen looking to catch chinook and coho salmon on their way upstream to spawn. Some of these fish are striving to reach the Salmon River Fish Hatchery, returning to the place where their life began. Like many migratory fish species, salmon are able to return to their home streams by following the unique chemical composition of the water where they imprinted. Salmon raised at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery "imprinted" on the combination of well water and stream water used at the hatchery, and are now returning there in great numbers. Soon it will be time for hatchery staff to begin the "egg take" process, the first step in raising the next generation of salmon for stocking in Lake Ontario and its tributaries, including the Salmon River.

Anglers fish along side a drift boat at Altmar North. Photo by River Steward Liz Wolff.

The Salmon River Fish Hatchery, located on County Route 22 in Altmar, NY, is a great stop for anglers looking to learn more about the fish they're hoping to catch. The main building is currently open from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. each day, and has numerous informational displays about the hatchery, the Salmon River, and the sportfish species found there. The facility is also great for families and offers a children’s area with coloring sheets, posters, and kid-friendly educational materials as well as an auditorium that plays a series of videos about fishing and the spawning process. This time of year, another attraction is the fish ladder where you can watch as thousands of fish make their way up to the hatchery.

Left: A salmon attempts to jump up the "waterfall" at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery. Salmon instinctually want to go up stream to spawn. Features like the fish ladder and waterfall help draw them closer to the hatchery. A gate is in place (Right) to stop the fish from traveling upstream past the hatchery, though some still make it over the gate when the water is higher. Photos by River Steward Liz Wolff.

An exciting time to visit the hatchery is during the salmon egg take, which begins on 10/8/09. No eggs are taken on weekend or holidays and activity typically takes place in the morning; afternoon sessions occasionally take place as well. The egg take will continue until the required number of eggs are collected, which varies in length from year to year. Call the hatchery for more information on spawning times.

Anglers on a beautiful fall day at the Pineville Bridge. Photo by River Steward Greg Chapman.

Tours are sometimes held for various groups at the hatchery as well. River Steward Greg Chapman conducted his first tour of the season this past Saturday for members of the Syracuse area YMCA. Greg enjoyed the opportunity to present some of the finer details about the hatchery operation, its history, and some of the considerations that go into keeping Lake Ontario stocked with sportfish.

The sun peeks down through the trees at Trout Brook fishing access location. Photo by River Steward Greg Chapman.

On Monday, I, River Steward Liz Wolff, gave a tour of the Salmon River Falls Unique Area to a group of women from Japan who were visiting as part of a Rotary Club program. Despite the rainy, cold weather the ladies enjoyed their tour and were quick to capture shots of the gorgeous fall foliage from the top of the waterfall. After the falls tour, the group headed back to the hatchery where they learned all about the Salmon River, local fishing industry, and the details of spawning season. Although the "egg take" had not started yet, the group was still excited to see thousands of fish making their way up the ladder and into the crowding channel. Before they headed home, I took the group to the Lower Fly zone in Altmar to see some fly fishing first-hand! There was no shortage of entertainment as we watched Salmon jumping up into the air and anglers fighting to land their fish.

The brilliant fall colors are reason enough to take a trip to the Salmon River Corridor!
Photos by River Steward Liz Wolff.

When we're not wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of spawning season and tours at the hatchery, Greg and I love just being out on the river taking in the magnificent fall scenery and talking to anglers. We're always happy to answer your questions and chat about the river, so don't hesitate to strike up a conversation!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cool Digs! (9/24/09-9/30/09)

A group of fifth graders anxiously await the Habitat and Dwelling Steward Program Station at 2009 Oswego County Conservation Field Days. Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff describes the activity to the students. Photo by Mary Penney, Steward Coordinator, New York Sea Grant.

Thursday, September 29, Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff took part in Conservation Field Days at Selkirk Shores State Park. Conservation Field Days lets kids learn about conservation and environmental science through hands on demonstrations and activities. Oswego County Soil & Water Conservation District did an excellent job coordinating the event as always! The Steward Program has been participating for a number of years, and looks forward to Conservation Field Days each fall.

The theme for the Steward Program this year was "Animal Habitats and Dwellings." Liz created a display board depicting local animal habitats along the shores of riparian and Eastern Lake Ontario. She briefly asked the students to explain the terms "habitat" and "dwelling" and then broke each group of about 20 students into smaller teams. Each team then picked a card with a list of animal characteristics on it. Once the team solved the clues and identified the correct animal, they were given a picture of their animal and a box of materials to create the animal’s dwelling.

"Team Hornet" glues strips of newspaper onto their balloon like a swarm of busy bees. They are building a representation of a hornets' nest. Photo by Mary Penney, Steward Coordinator, New York Sea Grant.

For example, one card described the attributes of a hornet. The hornet box contained a balloon, piece of string, newspaper cut into strips and a glue stick. Once students blew up the balloon, then others glued strips of newspaper around it to represents the "papery" look of a hornets' nest. While the students were working, Liz explained that hornets actually chew up tree bark which mixes with their saliva to create the paper-like appearance of the hive. Once the kids were finished creating their habitats or dwellings, Liz presented them with a photo of the animal in its respective dwelling.

The creation of a great blue heron nest. Photo by Mary Penney, Steward Coordinator, New York Sea Grant.

Each team presented what they learned about their animal (why it creates a certain type of home for itself) and the structure they created. One girl was so excited about the hornets nest that her team built that she walked by us at the end of the day and said, "Thank you for letting me build a hornets' nest today!" Some students in the last group of the day built a great blue heron’s nest out of large sticks. The nest was so huge that students could actually sit inside it. The other kids in that class were amazed by the nest and commented that "it is really cool and looks just like a real Heron’s nest!"

"Team Squirrel's" interpretation of what a drey, or squirrel's nest looks like. Photo by Mary Penney, Steward Coordinator, New York Sea Grant.

Other animals the students could select were the beaver, yellow perch, pileated woodpecker and gray squirrel. After the children presented their animals and dwellings they were asked to show the class which habitat type around Eastern Lake Ontario their animal would live in. The groups chose from habitat types including aquatic, beach, dune, backdune/forest or wetland. Within the displays, tiny cutouts of the animals were hidden and the kids were excited to see that their animal had been hiding in front of their eyes all along! Overall the activity was a huge success and the kids loved that it was truly a hands-on experience. Hopefully the Animal Habitat and Dwelling activity can be used to educate students in the future!