Word was out toward the end of last week that coho salmon had appeared in Lagunitas Creek and tributaries in western Marin County, to the north and west of us here in Berkeley. Coho are endangered on our part of the coast, so their annual appearance is an occasion; and also a rarity, because Lagunitas Creek has one of the few viable wild population on the north-central California coast. I had heard that the fish–were talking about five dozen fish so far–were spawning both in the main creek and in a couple of tributaries: San Geronimo Creek and Devil’s Gulch Creek. San Geronimo flows into Lagunitas Creek after skirting several small West Marin townlets and passing a golf course; to get into San Geronimo Creek, the salmon (and the steelhead trout who migrate later in the season) have to make their way up a series of low falls and rapids called the Ink Wells. With few salmon returning the last couple of years, very few have made it up there, but this year maybe 30 fish have gotten past the barrier and started to spawn.
Devil’s Gulch Creek was an unknown to me and appeared on maps to be a tiny little thing. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine big fish going some of the places these big fish want to go. I was told a few days ago by a watershed biologist that salmon were spawning in Devil’s Gulch, though, so I went this afternoon to check it out (yes–the sad truth is that for all my interest in California salmon, I’ve never seen truly wild fish spawning).
I didn’t see any today, either. But I can confirm the creek is small, rocky, and full of the things that biologists say the coho need: gravel beds (for spawning) large woody debris (to provide refuge for growing salmon in the year-plus they’ll spend in the stream before migrating to the ocean), and lots of shade (to keep the water cool–salmon don’t tolerate warm water). Next time I’ll try to give myself more than the tail end of daylight to conduct my explorations (it was pretty much dark when I got back to the car).
(Picture above: Devil’s Gulch creek, just upstream from the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard bridge–you can see the road in the background. Here’s a Flickr Devil’s Gulch slideshow.).