Some call it 'salmon watching' but watching people watch salmon is more like it. The Adam's River salmon run peaks every four years attracting a quarter million people who line the banks of the crystal clear stream to witness the return of ten times as many sockeye salmon. An elegy of life played out in miniature, the spectacle of the life cycle closing is often described as an emotional experience by onlookers. Many are moved to tears as they watch natural selection in its most perfect expression.
Against All Odds: Salmon are thought to use the earth’s magnetic field for navigating on the open ocean. Closer to shore pheromones unique to each river are relied upon to hone in on the waterway of their birth. Salmon are reportedly able to detect the scent of their particular river in concentrations as weak as 1 or 2 parts per million.
Upon returning home, a nesting pair typically releases 4000 eggs before dying. Of these 800 will survive to become tiny salmon fry. Predation or mishap in the river means only 200 smolts will ever reach the ocean. Birds of prey, sea mammals or disease take their toll however with just 10 adults setting out to rediscover the river of their birth. Fishermen will snag 8 of those, leaving a single pair to complete the cycle. Such grim calculations leave no margin of error. Unusually virulent disease, over-fishing, the tirades of global warming or stream damage through logging, construction or pollution could easily upset such a delicate balance sending the species into a downward spiral.
Of the 4000 eggs laid by each female only two will survive to finish the return journey four years later to the place of their birth. The others will succumb to natural and human predation, fisheries mismanagement, natural and human-devised ecological disasters and, finally, the rigours of the 490 km journey upstream against the currents of the mighty Fraser and Thompson Rivers. Only the toughest, the canniest survive.
With their reserves of fat entirely depleted, the crimson flesh of the weary sockeye can be seen through their skin. In a final heroic act the sockeye pair off, fashion a nest in the river gravel, spawn then guard their precious legacy, until exhausted, they die, becoming just food for scavenging eagles and crows and bears and other creatures. In peak years 2½ million typically cram the river and spawning channels to overflowing. In off years too however, sockeye, in fewer numbers, return during September and October. The drama is no less inspiring and, since the crush of migrating humans is considerably less, the experience may be all the more satisfying. 2010 was a peak year so, likewise 2014, 2018 and so on every four years should also mark their triumphant return. 2010 saw a record breaking salmon run which the DFO estimated at 3.8 million sockeye returning to the Adams River as part of a overall run of 8.6 million in the entire Fraser River watershed.
Of course the local Chamber of Commerce, always eager to capitalize on a promising event, has mounted the Salute to the Sockeye to coincide with the quadrennial return. Typical events include the Squilax Pow Wow, Square Dance Weekends, Family Theatre, North Shuswap Artisans Craft & Pottery Sales, Snowmobile Poker Run and so on. Hokey yes, but then again, 2½ million spawning salmon is a hard act to follow.
Greyhound will take you as far as Salmon Arm, east of Kamloops, six times daily. A 30 minute limo or taxi ride will be enough to complete the journey to the banks of the Adams River. Book accommodation or camping sites well ahead of time to avoid disappointment. If you plan on tenting out make sure your sleeping bag can cut the season. There is no camping allowed at Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park where this marvel unfolds but Cottonwood Campsite right next door is ideally situated and features log cabins, showers, even laundry in addition to lakeside campsites.
There are 272 campsites available at Shuswap Lake Provincial Park 13 km further along the road.