Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

The Salmon Have Returned

©Bert Gildart: Two of Alaska’s five species of salmon have once again returned to the state’s various streams and rivers, following an immense migration from the ocean. The return is a much heralded event, and is the source of art, scientific management and considerable awe. It’s an exciting time to be stalking Alaskan waters!


The return of the salmon prompts various forms of art.

The species we’ve seen vary from location to location, and in Whitehorse on the Yukon, it was the King Salmon, also known as Chinook. In Skagway, along the Skagway River it is the Coho. Other times of the summer see the chum, sockeye and pinks. In all cases, the streams they seek are the streams from which they first emerged as young fry. Now they are returning, using their olfactory senses to seek out the tiny streams that imprinted on their minds.

“It’s like a finger print,” said one of the interpreters at the Whitehorse Fishway Interpretation Centre. “Each stream has specific odors, created perhaps by its chemical or mineral makeup.”


Just a few weeks ago Janie, Adam, Susan and I were lured to the Yukon as it passes through Whitehorse. The river provides Kings with the world’s longest fish migration route, allowing these salmon to enter the Yukon and then migrate over 2,000 miles to small tributary streams near Teslin, located in the Yukon Territory. Once Kings had free access along their entire route, but as Whitehorse grew, hydro electric power was deemed a necessity, and so the town built a small dam. Obviously, the dam interfered with the migration, so in 1959, just after completion of the dam, the government constructed a fish ladder, one of the longest wooden fish ladders in the world. In part, that’s what attracted our small group to the interpretive center.


The interpretive center is comprehensive offering among its displays a series of aquariums. One window shows young “fry” and I found I could photograph them by placing the lens of my camera flush with the glass. Others were attempting to photograph the fry (young fish) by holding the camera away from the glass, but that way you get glare.  However, unless your lens has a macro mode you’re out of luck as you can’t get close enough to focus. Still, because the depth of field is so shallow — and the fry are moving so fast — you’ll need many attempts just to obtain a few good shots.


Other parts of the center offer displays of Native arts, showing miniatures of fish traps and of the ingeniously designed fish wheel.

Also on display were artistically rendered fish, created every year by any who wish to participate. Many artists add to the fish wall, and this year, a lady operating our campground created one with an African motif. Most are decorated with germane paintings, or with beads and tacks that create a pleasing pattern. All the fish are then grouped into a display, and the end result is striking.

Adjacent to the swarm of art fish is the fish ladder, and every now and then you can see well how it works. Below you, in the Yukon, huge King Salmon battle in the river’s murky (almost impossible to photograph) waters, just below the dam. Because they can not overcome the powerful waters created by the spill, they are pushed to the sides, where their energy is renewed. With thrusts of tail and bodies, they then power their way up the trough for what appears to be about a hundred yards.


To see larger version click on each image. L to R: Coho salmon now in tiny streams surrounding Skagway; return of salmon prompts artistic intrepretaions, in this case native fish traps and fish wheels; fish ladder help King Salmon around dam.

In this way they make their way around the dam and back into the wild Yukon. From here, they continue their migration, eventually returning to the tiny streams from which they hatched. Then the cycle begins anew, and the following spring, young fry make their way down the Yukon — or the Skagway River — where they enter the ocean.


For up close and personal observations, Skagway is the place to go, and here we saw Coho salmon. Though not as colorful as Kings (in fact the color of Coho is drab), still the migration is spectacular and because you are so close, you find yourself cheering them on.  This is the final leg of their journey, and you can watch them separated from a vantage point of just a few dozen feet. Get any closer and they spook.

For Kings and Coho, all this takes place in July and throughout much of August. As nature would have it, some were already turning belly up, their job of creating their redds complete.


As "fry" young king salmon will soon start their jouney back down the Yukon, where they'll enter the ocean.

Redds are the nests in which females lay their eggs, which number over 5,000. Males quickly move in and cover the eggs with milt. Shortly thereafter, life for them is over, their role of renewing their kind complete.


Young hatch in late fall or early winter and are called alevins. They live off the yoke sack and when it is gone they are called fry. Fry begin making their way toward the ocean, though live for about two years in fresh water. At the end of their downstream migration they enter the ocean where they remain for about three years, at which time, they begin their way toward such rivers as the Yukon. Not all kings, of course, originated in the Yukon, but many did – and those are the ones you can see in Whitehorse. Likewise, not all Coho originated in the Skagway River, but these two rivers provide extraordinary opportunities to watch as a cycle three to five years in the making draws to a close – but then makes ready to begin again.

The sight can be both humbling and uplifting, and is one that can be seen in but few places. The Yukon and Skagway rivers offer that extraordinary opportunity.



*Old Quebec City


Leave a Reply