Autumn Spawn

Last week, Mike coaxed me away from my desk to drive up to Wallowa Lake. It was a beautiful afternoon and, I had to admit, I haven’t spent much time out of our new house except to travel to Pendleton and Portland. So, off we went, across Alder Slope, through Joseph, and around to the south side of the lake, where it is fed by the Wallowa River.

The reservoir itself was low; the exposed shore revealed thousands of beautiful stones, worn smooth by the waves’ rubbing them together. We pocketed examples of the mountains’ geologic layers: greenstone, granite and basalt.

The state park had posted signs warning not to disturb the water because salmon were spawning. We crept upriver to investigate. Sure enough, 7-inch fish known as “kokanee” appeared in every side stream. They’re the antithesis of the steelhead I mentioned in my springtime fishing post: rather than being ocean-going trout, kokanee are land-locked salmon.

Living fish are difficult to photograph!

Living fish are difficult to photograph! I swear they’re in there

However, they still have the instinct to swim upriver and spawn in the gravel beds of fast-moving water. The kokanees’ red backs stuck out from the browns and oranges of the rocks and dead foliage that had sunk to the bottom. As we walked upriver, we saw some kokanee preparing to ford a new set of rapids, some fighting each other, some shaking up the gravel with their tails. They were everywhere.

And then we noticed that some of them were another kind of fish, about the same size. Brown with a rainbow sheen on the side, and spots. They looked an awful lot like trout … but why would trout be spawning in the same place as salmon?

Later that day, we took our question to our friend and resident Fishing Guru, Jon Rombach. “What were they doing there?” we asked.


“Feasting, probably,” he said. Turns out, trout follow salmon upstream to avail themselves of an easy, eggy meal.

Salmon spawn=trout treat!

Salmon spawn = trout treat!

In addition to the hundreds of live fish, there were also plenty of ones who had already fulfilled their mission, or not, and relinquished their grip on this earthly plane. I’ve seen spawning salmon at Multnomah Falls, Northwestern Lake and Bull Run; it was fun to see this miniature version fulfilling its same, genetically coded destiny.

Easier to capture these guys ...

Easier to capture these guys …

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