The salmon run is one of Mother Nature’s greatest displays, and it’s playing out right here in Penticton.
Right now, the streams in and around Penticton are starting to fill up with those distinctively bright red Kokanee salmon. After spending a few years in Okanagan or Skaha Lake, the salmon are making their final journey to return to their birthplace to spawn. Their eggs will emerge from the stream gravels in spring, and wash into the lake, and the four-year cycle continues.
We spoke with Paul Askey, a Fisheries Scientist with the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C., and chair of the Penticton & Ellis Creek Restoration Committee, about opportunities to view the Kokanee salmon.
Plans for a Viewing Platform
In recent weeks, the City has been busily working on its restoration work of Penticton Creek, creating a more idyllic and natural environment for salmon to spawn. After work wraps up next year, the City will create a public viewing platform with on-site signage, where people can catch a close-up view of this annual spectacle.
“The long-term vision is to create a pleasant location for viewing the salmon, and it will become an attraction to see the salmon right here in town,” said Askey.
In the meantime, this season’s spawn (2022) is expected to reach its height between Sept. 20 to 25, with many fish lingering until late September. Areas along Penticton Creek between Okanagan Lake and Nanaimo Avenue, where accessible, will provide the best viewing points, as well as just above the footbridge at Wade. Be aware that sections of the footpath along the creek remain closed to pedestrians due to the restoration work, so please abide by signage. (To learn more about the creek restoration work, visit penticton.ca/penticton-creek)
Where to Look for Sockeye Salmon
Although the Kokanee look similar to a Sockeye salmon, it is a ‘landlocked’ salmon that spends its entire life within the freshwater system. In comparison, the Sockeye, which will return to the Okanagan River Channel to spawn next month, will have travelled an extraordinary distance through the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean.
The Sockeye are currently waiting in Skaha Lake for the water temperature to drop, at which time they’ll enter the Channel and spawn, expected to take place in late October.
Okanagan Nation Alliance
The Okanagan Nation Alliance has been working hard to conserve, protect, restore and enhance local salmon stocks. Their kł cp̓əlk̓ stim̓ Hatchery is a 25,000-square-foot facility with the capacity to rear eight million eggs.
Among other projects, the ONA is involved in the Okanagan River Restoration Initiative, which involves improving salmon spawning and rearing habitat for fish in the Penticton Channel between Skaha and Okanagan Lakes.
This dedicated group has been releasing sockeye and chinook salmon into the Channel and Okanagan Lake, and participating in tagging and tracking salmon to track their progress.
The Penticton Flyfishers are deeply involved in the conservation of all fish species, and played a key role in maintaining the Penticton Creek Kokanee population for decades. This includes maintaining fish ladders, gravel spawning beds, as well as running counting fences and a volunteer hatchery in years past. They also work towards supporting and encouraging the preservation and development of lake and stream waters for the practice of fishing with artificial flies, and supporting the Ministry of Environment with projects that are intended to enhance fishing opportunities.
The club typically meets for fishouts at various lakes during the open water season. It’s an opportunity to fish with experienced anglers and learn about the local fisheries.
From 1988 to 2010, Okanagan Lake held the world record Kokanee, which exceeded nine pounds (4 kg). Kokanee of this size are extremely rare and only exist in a few lakes in the world. The large Kokanee are still small compared to the gigantic Rainbow trout, which feed on Kokanee in the lake and can reach sizes in excess of 20 pounds (10 kg).