By: Andrew Collins-Anderson, SYRCL River People Coordinator
On a cool fall morning, we wound our way through the foothills from Nevada City to the lower Yuba to join SYRCL’s annual raft trip. Underneath Parks Bar Bridge, the feeling of excitement for this year’s salmon run and the resolve to improve the conditions for the salmon of the Yuba are vibrating in the air.
SYRCL staff, board and supporters began to gather in anticipation. Children and adults scramble over the rocks to catch early glimpses of jumping salmon. Everyone is ready to enjoy a day on the water. With guidance from SYRCL staff and expert raft guides from Environmental Traveling Companions and Friends of the River, it was sure to be a float trip to remember.
With our introductions and safety talk taken care of, we were soon casting off into the cold meander of the lower Yuba River. Instantly, we were enchanted by large silver and red salmon darting around our rafts as they protect and build redds, where salmon lay their eggs, and fight their way upstream. Patches of cleaned gravel below riffles show us where the female salmon have chosen to lay their eggs. With fresh water and oxygen the next salmon generation will emerge from these redds in 4-6 weeks.
Chinook salmon, also known as king salmon, historically came up the Yuba and many other rivers in California by the hundreds of thousands. Today, wild Fall-Run Chinook salmon return to the lower Yuba in the thousands, while the much rarer Spring-Run Chinook salmon are federally listed as a species threatened with extinction. Chinook salmon can measure four feet in length and often weigh 30 – 40 lbs. These Chinook salmon have traveled over a hundred miles from the Pacific to their spawning grounds in the Yuba River, and show the signs of an arduous journey.
Impacts from mining, dams, water diversions, loss of habitat and over fishing are some of the many threats to the viability of salmon in California. SYRCL is working diligently to restore wild salmon through the Yuba Salmon Now campaign. (For more information on the campaign, please read our plan.)
If you get the chance, head down to the Lower Yuba this fall and share your love and inspiration for the salmon who have overcome decades of adversity to continue to return home to the remarkable Yuba River.