September 26th, 2009

Salmon in Deer Creek

When the salmon were running, my grandfather fished them from Deer Creek with a pitch fork, hauled them home in a wheel barrow, and fed them to the pigs. My dad said they rarely ate salmon from the creek at the table; only when they found one still in good health and intact from its trek up the Nooksack. Even then, they were not nearly as tasty as the beautiful fish the Lummi Indians brought around to trade for potatoes. Deer Creek salmon were all ready to spawn and die. The Lummis had their traditional fishing spots where they caught salmon just right for eating.seagull

At close to twenty dollars a pound for premium salmon, I don’t suppose that anyone is concerned about salmon as pig fodder anymore, but in case you are considering it– don’t feed salmon to hogs too close to slaughter– Dad said salmon fed pork tastes like fish. All this took place long before I was born, and Dad is not around anymore to ask, so the line of reasoning is a little dicey, but I think that from this, we can infer that there was a healthy spring run of salmon on Deer Creek ninety years ago. Grandpa butchered pigs in October and only ever kept one or two sows over winter, so he would not feed salmon in the fall, but he would feed the pigs salmon from a spring run. The run must have been healthy if Grandpa could fill a wheel barrow with a pitch fork.

I thought about salmon in Deer Creek this week because the fall run would be about now. The creek is a half mile north of the farm. We had to cross the Littleton place to get to the creek. The Littletons replaced the previous owner, Doc Hurd. Doc was a horse veterinarian from long before my time. He had the farm to the north of us and the creek ran through his property. The intervening thirty acres between our place and the creek was subdivided a few years ago and now has houses on it and a sappy real estate name, Whisper Ridge, but to me, it is still “Littleton’s” or when I am thinking about old stories, “Doc Hurd’s.”

We watered our stock from water pumped from our well, first pumped by a wind mill, later by electricity. If the wind did not blow enough to keep the stock watered, Dad or Grandpa would have to lead the stock through Doc Hurd’s place to the creek, mutual cooperation that was a matter of course in those days. November can be a lean month for wind in Whatcom county. Sometimes we have a streak of foggy still weather that lasts long enough for the stock to drain a wind mill holding tank. I wonder what the folks in Whisper Ridge would think if I lead a herd of cows through their lawns today?

I have personally only seen one salmon in Deer Creek. That was in the early 60’s when my cousin Dave and I sometimes went back to the creek to fish for trout. I spotted the salmon barely moving on a little gravel shingle. She had deposited her eggs and was about to call it quits. One old salmon girl, doing her duty.

If there was a male salmon around to fertilize her redd (nest of eggs), she might have a few descendants in the creek today. I hope so. The old creek is probably more hospitable to salmon now than back in the days when Doc Hurd owned the place. Back then, Whisper Ridge was all wooded, but the north bank was cleared cow pasture right up to the creek, exposing it to dirty runoff and sunshine.

One year, my cousin and I found the carcass of a dead cow in the creek, nearly completely rotted. When we told Dad about it, he just shook his head. Not our business, but nasty. I hope no one was taking their drinking water from the creek downstream and I imagine it was bad for the salmon. The little ten, fifteen cow dairy herds that used to be everywhere are gone now, and even the big dairies are being replaced with houses, so the run off must be changing. I hope it is better for the salmon.

When my cousin and I fished for trout, we seldom caught anything. Some of the best spots were near a small irrigation pond that filled from a spring that came from the side of the bluff on our side of the stream. The overflow from the pond into the creek was cold spring water, and once in a while one of us caught a barely legal rainbow or dolly varden in the cooler water below the pond. But for the most the creek, the murky water was warm and sluggish all fishing season. The salmon enhancement people have planted trees that can be seen where the Northwest Road crosses the creek and others where the Aldrich Road crosses. They are not even head-high yet, so they have just barely begun begun to cool the water and clear the run off, but they will eventually have a big effect and I believe they may already have improved the water quality.

One of these days, I’ll put my dog on a leash, cut through the houses on Whisper Ridge, and check on the salmon run in Doc Hurd’s creek.

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