What Happens to the Steelhead and Salmon if the River’s Mouth is closed?

Monday January 13, 2014 Jenner CA.

Do they just die out there or get eaten up?

Ken, a blog reader asked me these questions a couple days ago:

I was wondering how long it will take the river to back up with such a small amount of water coming in? I was also wondering what happens to the fish that don’t get to come into the river. I would imagine if there is any Coho salmon that haven’t made it in they will probably die? I was thinking if the steelhead don’t make it in the river can they wait another year in the ocean or do they die also? Lots of questions this morning.

My answer to him was, truthfully, no one knows, but I’ll tell you what I think in a blog post soon.

Here’s what I have to say about the subject

I’m not sure how long it will take the water to back up behind the closed river’s mouth.They have reduced the water flow to about 100 cfs a few days ago coming down the river, so that might put a couple inches or so on it a day.

Some water also leaks though the porous sand, it can leak out or leak in depending on the height of the ocean tides, so that is always an unknown.

During real high tides, say about 5.5 feet and over, a rough ocean can cause ocean water to flow over the closed mouth and into the river with each wave and that water can’t get back out so can raise the river’s water level quite a bit. Real high tides cycle about twice a mouth, with the cycles of the moon, otherwise the high tides are lower than five feet so don’t affect the river as much. These same high, high tides have the potential to open the mouth also, as they can create a channel for the water to flow into the river. That same channel can then open the mouth when it goes to a real low tide. Real low tides and real high tides go together in the cycle.

So, it’s hard to predict, as there are so many variables.

So, what happens to the big fish that want to come into the river to spawn, and can’t?

Like I said, truthfully, no one knows, but I can give you some info of what I think might happen, but can I make it brief?

First off, steelhead and salmon come to the river’s mouth spread out though-out most of the winter, the rainy period, so some are likely to find it open, no matter what each year and even if it was closed all winter, they don’t all come the same year, so they have plenty of good odds in their favor that their species will survive.

But what happens to the big fish that want to get into the river to spawn when the mouth is closed and they can’t? I suppose some of them get eaten by seals and sea lions and other big fish. But these fish are ocean smart and are survivors to have lasted out in the ocean, so they know how to survive out there and most of them, ………do the eating part, after all they are mighty hunters.

But say the big fish are out there waiting and waiting and the mouth is still closed. Well, some sexy fish might just swim by headed for the Sacramento River to spawn and there is a good chance the Russian River fish will follow those fish to the Sacramento River and join them in spawning.

We have been taught that these big fish return to the same spot year after year to spawn and that’s where the problem lies, I think.

Not all the big fish follow the rules, some go other places. This has to be so, otherwise, big fish would not propagate into other streams.

Think about it, the big fish are out there waiting to come in to follow the smells in the water, but the mouth is closed, no water is bringing the smells out into the ocean, so what’s a spawning fish to do? Of course they don’t know all of this, so they would just do what ever comes natural.

When I was talking to the biologists the other day, I talked a bit about this with them. Here’s a little clue they gave me. They said some of the tagged Coho salmon have showed up in the Sacramento river or was it the tagged Sacramento fish showed up in the Russian River. No matter, it shows all fish don’t go back to the same place every year.

This picture shows the closed river mouth. It’s low tide and the ocean is rough, but not breaking over into the river at this time. At high tide, with the low sandy beach, the water can break over and into the river, putting ocean water into the river and raising it’s level.mouthclosed

My conclusion is:

So I would conclude at this time that some fish die from being eaten but most of the fish go on to other rivers along the coast to spawn.

Time to get on with the kayaking

It looked like a nice day as I got up this morning and got it going. I was down at Jenner just after eleven and put my boat in the water. The sun was out and the water was flat. The river’s mouth was still closed as the estuary water level was high as I put my boat in the water.

I paddled, leisurely across the river to Penny Island and sat around in the little channel on the east end for awhile before heading on up the river towards eagle’s landing.

There was a harbor seal on a submerged redwood log as I passed by the end of the island. It didn’t hardly move as I went on by it.seal


My view as I approached the Eagle’s landing area, looking up river.calm


I paddled over to the Eagle’s landing area, then over to Paddy’s rock and sat around for a bit before going up the river a little further on the north shoreline.

This was my view as I paddled up towards the highway one bridge. Some coots and ducks in the water.view


I turned around just below the bridge and started on back down the river.

This is my view. Paddy’s rock in the middle and Jenner in the background.jenner


I paddled on down past Penny Island and headed over to the river’s mouth.

Three big sea lions high tailed it over the sand bar to the ocean as I approached, one at a time. These three were larger than the seven smaller ones I’d seen before that have been in the estuary for a couple weeks.

Here is one of the sea lions beat footing it or beat flippering it to the ocean, rather in  a hurry.sealion


There were a couple big dogs in the area barking and is likely why the sea lions were in such a hurry.

Shortly after that the dogs scared the harbor seals into the water.

This picture shows some harbor seals that just jumped into the water as two barking dogs spooked them.seals


My view of the closed river mouth as I sat around there for a bit.rivermouth


It was a real nice day. This is my view as approached the visitor center take out area today. Nice. :O)center


And I checked the water level gauge at the visitor center just before taking my boat out. It’s just a little over four feet. Note this gauge does not relate directly with the oceans tides. It’s more to mark the level of the water before it floods the visitor center and shortly after that, the highway one road too, so we don’t want it to get to ten feet. They usually open the mouth after it hits seven feet.gauge


It sure was a nice day, I pulled my boat out and went on home. The sun was still out when I got home so I looked at my car engine a bit to try to figure out why it’s loping at low speeds on cold mornings. I did some stuff, but likely haven’t figured it out yet.

My brother left his wheel tractor out front, so I found my key and used it to move a big brush pile that is in my way of putting some water and electrical piping in for a new well I plan for the future. I have to dig a ditch which I will do by hand, eventually.

I don’t really need a water well as I am on a good water spring that comes out of the hills above me, but I’m just planning for the next guy, after I’m dead and gone.

So, now I’m getting ready to go on a little trip to a place called Red slide for a few days camping in my old van. I’ll be gone a few days with no internet access so I won’t post again until I get back, likely Thursday night.

Nice day.

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