Another near-record salmon run is expected on the Stanislaus River this fall.
So if you’ve never seen a mighty Chinook, this might be the year to get out there and find one.
The first opportunity was Saturday at the Stanislaus River Salmon Festival at Knights Ferry, off Highway 120 east of Oakdale. From the festival on the banks of the river, you can walk onto the Sonora Road bridge and peer down at the fish spawning in the gravel streambed.
“If you want to see salmon anywhere, from now through the end of November is the best window of time,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist J.D. Wikert.
The Stanislaus festival has attracted up to 3,000 people during its first four years, said Wikert, one of many organizers. This year’s fifth festival almost didn’t happen, thanks to the government shutdown, but that ended just in time to allow organizers to push forward.
Among other highlights were calendars featuring salmon artwork drawn by children who live near the river.
“We just decided it was a good idea to raise awareness about the fact that we have salmon in the Stanislaus River, and it’s a valuable resource,” Wikert said. “The hope is to keep it community-focused and not grow it into some huge rock band, cotton candy, deep-fried Twinkies kind of event.”
Last year a record 7,248 migratory salmon returned to the Stanislaus to spawn, nearly 10 times as many as the year before. (For perspective, though, far more fish likely returned before dams were built and before surveys were first conducted.)
Last year’s increase was attributed to continued improvement in Central Valley salmon runs several years after a steep decline.
“A lot of it has to do with good ocean conditions,” Wikert said. After being born in streams and rivers, young salmon migrate to the ocean, where they spend most of their lives before returning to the streams to spawn and die.
As of Thursday, 2,680 salmon had passed a downstream weir near Riverbank, putting the Stanislaus only slightly behind last year’s record-breaking pace.