Kokanee salmon make their final run this weekend | SierraSun.com

Kokanee salmon make their final run this weekend

Rick Chandler and Tim Parsons
Sun News Service

Jim Grant/Sun News ServiceClaire Dunne, 5, gets a close-up view of a swimming kokanee at the stream profile chamber.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE ” Adult males develop a humped back and a heavy hooked jaw, equipping them for the inevitable battles over both mates and territory, and both sexes turn from their usual silver/blue color to a brilliant red. Then, en masse, they make a mad dash to their mating grounds, displaying their colors to attract a mate, then battling to protect the small patch of gravel where they make their nests.

And so, another spring break in Ft. Lauderdale comes to an end …

No, wait. Sorry. We meant to say, it’s time once again for the Kokanee Salmon Festival, which in its 17th year has become one of the most interesting and educational events in Northern California.

Co-sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and held at the Lake Tahoe Visitor Center at Taylor Creek, just north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89, the festival runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.

So once again throngs will gather to honor the wily salmon, enjoy salmon-related entertainment, participate in long-distance runs and observe the natural wonder that is the salmon migration in Taylor Creek.

What draws us to this spectacle year after year?

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“It’s a great mystery, like the behavior of the salmon themselves,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman. “It’s one of those neat little spectacles of nature. Just seeing all those fish, the brilliant colors and the surrounding natural environment, that’s special to a lot of people.”

Indeed, the Kokanee Festival has been growing in popularity each year, and the determined fish are only one component of the fun. Returning this year are the 5-kilometer and 10K runs on Saturday at 10 a.m., a children’s run called the Tadpole Trot at 9:15 a.m. The half-marathon, which annually takes place west of Highway 89, has been canceled because it is in an area damaged by the Angora fire.

Children will receive free coloring books and will be given prizes along the trail. A play called “Drama of the Kokanee Salmon” is performed at 2 p.m. both days.

Visitors can learn about the natural wonders of Taylor Creek from Forest Service biologists along the Rainbow Trail from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both days. A close-up view of the salmon migration will be available at the Taylor Creek Stream Profile Chamber, which includes a below-the-surface view of the action.

Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care will also be on hand, offering barbecued salmon (the Pacific Ocean variety) and other food and drink for $12. Salmon will be served Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Proceeds benefit Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care and the Kokanee Salmon Festival.

Plus, children will be greeted throughout the day by Sammy Salmon, the official festival mascot. Sammy will hang out near the fish painting booth, and other educational booths such as a black bear display, a bald eagle display, self-guided nature tours and a Kokanee Salmon T-shirt sales booth.

Oh no, Sammy is getting too close to the barbeque grill! Run, Sammy!

Like the salmon’s spawning ritual itself, parking for the festival can be quite a challenge. Visitors are urged to walk or ride bikes between Camp Rich and the Taylor Creek Center. Taking public transportation is also advised.

Kokanee salmon are landlocked cousins of the sea-going Sockeye Salmon, both of which were introduced to Lake Tahoe by biologists working at the lake’s North Shore.

“It’s unclear exactly what happened, but some speculate that there was an accident and some of those fish escaped into the lake,” Norman said. “The salmon quickly adapted to the Alpine environment, joining brown trout, rainbow trout and Mackinaw among the most prominent game fish in Tahoe.”

Each autumn, nature calls mature Kokanee to return to the streams from which they hatched, select a mate, spawn and die. As the time approaches, the fish change color to a brilliant red, and rush en masse up Taylor Creek to make their nests.

Early in the week small numbers of kokanee were swimming upstream and officials were “keeping there fingers crossed” that more will follow. The last great run was in 2005, but floods two months later washed away most of the eggs.

In February 2006, Project Kokanee, funded by the Fishery Foundation Incorporated planted more than 60,000 fingerlings, according to Lead Forest Ranger Jean Norman, who said many of which are now old enough to spawn.

The kokanee runs consist of fish ages 2 to 4 years old.

Information: (530) 543-2674.

And if you go, be sure to say hello to Sammy Salmon. We hear he’s delicious with coleslaw.