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King Salmon Research on the river;

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While you were sorely missing me here I was away to the cabin doing the essential spring cleaning and land maintenance for a few days

With a couple long days of cutting, more cutting, vacuuming and dock anchoring under my belt I wearily climbed into the ATEC for the long drive back to the boat launch. Other than the shear number of spruce trees down in the creek that connects the cabin on the lake to the river the 4 1/2 mile drive out the creek was uneventful. The usual suspects were spotted with the many ducks that flushed ahead of my coming but no big game was seen. I did see a cow moose and at least one calf along the river a few days back as I made my way out. Other notable observations were the almost complete lack of seagull presence along the sandbars as I drove. Another thing that stood out was that I saw only one eagle on the rivers both coming & going which encompasses a 150 mile round trip so that is a very noticeable absence. In previous years one would note hundreds of seagulls and at least 18 to 24 eagles along this expansive trek. Whether this is the result of a poor Hooligan (a species of smelt) run or not I cannot say but the normal spring brings the smelt by late May and the gulls and king salmon follow along. That migration of species triggers eagles, gulls and other wildlife into the first big feed of the year here but I saw little evidence of this...

The department of fish & game used to operate 3 sets of fish wheel counting and sampling stations along the 2 rivers I travel to get to and from the cabin. At this time there is but one and it is located along the main stem of the Susitna River with one wheel and station on each side of the river. Please excuse me for not taking pictures of the entire station as the photos came as an after thought to me as I sat visiting with the technicians. On my next trip I will shoot some video so you can all see how these contraptions work...

As the fish travel along each side of the river headed upstream they encounter a weir that stretches from the shore for about 15 yards to a small barge which is anchored by mooring lines to the shore further upstream. The wheel's baskets catch a sampling of what is passing through the chute at the end of the weir. Those fishes are then automatically channeled into a holding pen where they can be netted and examined. Some of these sampling stations also employ s sonar to get a better picture of numbers while the wheel and its baskets catch the samples.

Soon as I pulled up one of the guys was wrestling with a salmon in the tub. Naturally I called out in my best Yosemite Sam voice, "What the hell are you doing to that thar fish"? And of course that brought a smile to both of their faces as they knew a moment of levity had arrived in my form :

Once the fish was under control I remembered I had a camera.... Duh.

Many of the fish they had recorded this day were jack Fish, meaning they were second year salmon who for unknown reasons return after only one year at sea? This return , for Pacific salmon is a fatal decision because once they have reentered the fresh water environs they are doomed and will ultimately die by late August, there's no going back!

What you see here is a 'fin clip' the resulting specimen is I am told ground up into a pulp and then subjected to genetic testing to establish the origin of this particular fish.

He didn't like that!

The fin specimen;

Scales are also collected from adults at least appearing to be 3 year fish.

Scales are examined with a microscope and growth ridges are counted much the same as tree rings demonstrate the age of a tree the scales age the fish.

Large and small a certain number of the samplings are tagged with a micro chip that will be read by various sensors along rivers and creeks and so determine where sampled fish end up.

Chipped fish also have a visual tag as seen here.

Here you see a fish of around 14 to 15 pound being released after sampling.

The following series of photos shows the largest fish that wandered in while I was there. I had to leave sooner than I wanted due to thunder showers closing in on the valley.......

I would guesstimate that one at 30 - 33 pounds, a very fine 4 year fish that one!

I had to leave as you could see the thunderheads growing upriver where I had another 15 miles to travel so off I went.

For anyone who ever took the river tour with me, people from Switzerland, Germany, Portugal, France, Canada and many American States this spot was my ace in the hole! As I would drive the final miles of river I always called out 'to get your cameras ready'! "We are approaching the most rare wildlife photo op of this entire trip"

Then without notice I hug tight to the right bank, then a hard left turn and we speed 150 yards across the channel! Passing just below the point of a large sandbar island I shout out, "There they are!" "On the right"!

Flamingo Island!

Next trip I'll bring along my contribution to the flock and proudly plant it among the group. Everyone has always got a laugh out of my corny joke

Last thing of interest was another couple of miles upriver. A swarm of Arctic Terns was on and flying around some islands.

The bird you see just to the left of the sun had just been perched on my head!

Weird indeed! I was traveling at 27 mph upriver and that Tern began following me. He was able to hover in front at speed, he stayed over my head making several attempts to land. Then he finally landed and was riding there until I raised the camera and tried to get the picture. He then took off but fortunately I caught him as he dropped behind.............

Never before and probably never again.

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did the ride.