We had the opportunity to learn more about the marvel of salmon spawning with Fishing With Rod, a seasoned expert on all things fish-related. He dedicated time to enlighten us with insights and details about the salmon spawning season in the Chilliwack River Valley – continue reading to uncover his reflections and in-depth knowledge, including tips on where to witness the remarkable spectacle of spawning salmon!
Autumn in Coastal British Columbia is usually full of celebrations. Besides the seasonal harvest, we celebrate one of the largest migrations in the world – The return of Pacific salmon to their natal streams. After spending several years in the Pacific Ocean, millions of salmon make their way into the Fraser River and travel into tributaries where their journey first started. This is followed by spawning and completing their lifecycle.
Watching salmon spawning is one of the main tourist attractions in BC. Whenever salmon viewing is brought up, we often think of the famous Adams River where tens of thousands of red sockeye salmon can be seen. It is indeed a spectacular sight, but did you know that you don’t have to travel that far from Vancouver to see spawning salmon?
The Chilliwack River and Vedder River, located less than a two-hour drive from Vancouver, is one of several main tributaries of the Lower Fraser River where you can witness this natural phenomenon. All five species of Pacific salmon return to the Chilliwack River. Chinook and sockeye salmon return in the summer, while pink salmon return in September during every odd year. Coho and chum salmon, start arriving in October, but their spawning does not take place until November and after. Chum salmon’s spawning usually tapers off in early December, while coho salmon spawning takes place until mid-January. Spawning coho salmon watching can be a great winter activity!
Coho salmon enter the Chilliwack River while they are still silver in colour. They undergo metamorphosis as they migrate upstream, turning dark and red. Male coho salmon also develop a kype, a hook-like jaw which makes them bigger and more aggressive. This is a characteristic used to determine dominance when competing with other males during spawning.
Spawning, in fact, does not take place in the main stem of Chilliwack River, but in tiny ditch-like channels that connect to the river. These spawning channels can be found between Chilliwack Lake and Vedder Canal. While some are natural, many are restored habitats by groups such as the Fraser Valley Watersheds Coalition in the past few decades. The restored channels were also designed with humans in mind. Infrastructures like trails and viewing platforms are often included so anyone who wishes to see spawning salmon can access these with ease.
On the North side of the Lower Vedder River, Peach Creek between Peach Park and the parking lot at the South end of Lickman Road is the perfect venue for all salmon watchers of all ages. The creek runs alongside the Rotary Trail, and there are footbridges where one can stand to see salmon from above. The City of Chilliwack has done an excellent job by making amenities such as washrooms available along Rotary Trail. There is also a playground at Peach Park, as well as a food truck at times, making this walk very family-friendly.
Browne Creek on the south side of the Lower Vedder River also offers a similar viewing experience. To access Browne Creek, either walk downstream from the Vedder River Campground, or park in the lots at the North end of Browne Road or Bergman Road and access Rotary Trail from there.
To view spawning coho salmon in a more remote, natural setting, take a trip upstream to the Centennial Channel. This channel, located beside the Riverside Recreation Site, is approximately 10km upstream from Chilliwack River Hatchery. From the Vedder Crossing Bridge, it takes around 30 minutes to drive on Chilliwack Lake Road. Centennial Channel, a pristine creek restored in the late 90s, meanders through the temperate rainforest where salmon can spawn in peace. Trans Canada Trail runs along the channel, so access is not difficult as long as you are willing to hike. This section of the river has no mobile phone service, so you are recommended to be extra prepared when venturing into the area.
Be Prepared and Mindful
Spawning salmon viewing in December is a peaceful experience. Unlike sockeye salmon, coho salmon tend to be found in pairs instead of in thousands. When walking along the spawning channel, you’d often come across a school of fish up to a dozen. At times it can feel like a treasure hunt, and it’s often a game for children to spot coho salmon which can be hard to see at times due to their ability to camouflage under logs.
December’s weather in Chilliwack can be unpredictable. Snow, rain or crisp dry air can all be expected so be sure to dress appropriately for your salmon walk. While viewing, please respect spawning salmon by not approaching them in the creek too closely. Please also respect other wildlife and local residents by packing out any garbage.
Happy salmon viewing!
To learn more about Fishing With Rod, visit his website here!