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.

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