Alta Picks: Salmon Watching

Discover the fascinating spectacle of salmon on a mission.


Winter means one thing for coho salmon: time to leave the Pacific Ocean and return to their waters of origin to spawn. For nature enthusiasts, little can compare with the sight of these creatures leaping up a waterfall or fishtailing their way up an inches-deep mountain creek on their epic, final journeys. From November through February, the shallow waters of Lagunitas Creek in Marin County are a reliable place to catch some of the action—from the Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area, you can watch as a female digs a hole in a gravel bed and lays eggs and a male then swims back and forth above them, releasing milt and fertilizing them. The pair may repeat this action in several locations before exhausting their gametes and succumbing. Though they’re endangered, you can seek out migrating coho from California’s Central Coast to Alaska. You might even spot their elusive cousins steelhead trout (threatened), which also return from the Pacific to spawn in winter. Many fish watchers keep their favorite spots secret. Mine? When the rains are right, I’ve seen two-and-a-half-foot steelies in a shallow section of a creek high above Muir Woods. Which section? Ha. I’m not sharing that!

Blaise Zerega is Alta Journal’s managing editor.
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