Checking water temps just prior to the salmon release...
By Sam Davidson
A former wrestler turned fisheries scientist who plays a prominent role in cold water fisheries conservation in California uttered these words on the afternoon of Saturday, November 9, as California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials released three adult Chinook salmon into their historic spawning grounds in the San Joaquin River near Fresno.
The large, wild fall-run salmon were trapped earlier that day near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Merced rivers and released at Lost Lake Recreation Area as the highlight of the first annual Fresno SalmonFest.
The aforementioned scientist – TU’s California Science Director Rene Henery -- stood next to me as I photographed the salmon being released. The “transformational moment” came when the hundreds of festival participants crowded around a boat launch to witness the salmon release emitted a loud roar of approval as the first salmon – a brightly colored male with a hook jaw weighing probably 30 pounds – was lifted out of the transportation tank and carried thrashing into the river. As the fish was released, the crowd applauded heartily.
Rene and I had huge smiles on our faces. The connection of all those people to the magnificent fish was palpable. Connect to fish, care for the river.
Trout Unlimited conceived the SalmonFest exactly to deliver such moments, to help us broaden and strengthen support for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program. The brainchild of Henery and TU’s San Joaquin Valley Outreach Coordinator Steve Thao, the SalmonFest celebrates the progress TU and our partners have made in restoring the San Joaquin River, and the return of salmon to habitat they have not had access to for nearly 70 years.
The San Joaquin hosted the state’s second largest run of spring-run salmon prior to construction of Friant Dam in 1942.
The inaugural SalmonFest featured a fly fishing clinic, casting instruction and competition, canoeing and kayaking, and plenty of outreach and education from resource agencies and conservation groups about the river restoration effort.
“Restoring a big river like the San Joaquin is a long-term proposition, and we expect some setbacks and unforeseen challenges as we move forward,” said Thao, chief organizer of the SalmonFest. “But we know that if we improve habitat and provide sufficient streamflows at the right times, salmon will return and we will have new and enhanced fishing opportunities around Fresno.”
Thanks to Fred Ramirez of Central Sierra Fly Fishing guide service; Rick Mazaira, guide for the Yosemite Rivers Fly Shop; and especially the Fresno Fly Fishers for Conservation – the oldest fly fishing organization in California – for their support during the SalmonFest.
Sam Davidson is Communications Director for TU in California.