Deciduous trees are yellow, and the mid-October sun is out.
“Should be sockeye in the Weaver Creek spawning channel,” my wife says.
We’ve made the trip yearly to check spawning streams not on the itinerary of Vancouver tour buses that funnel thousands of Chinese to the 26,000 fish regularly squeezed into this 3,000-metre spawning bed.
Whonnock Creek – between 272nd and 280th streets on the Lougheed Hwy. – has always supported chum, coho and pink. It’s our first stop.
“The Catalogue of Salmon Streams and Spawning Escapements of Mission-Harrison Sub-District (1979),” I say, “shows escapements ranging from 25 to 600 coho (1947 through 1978), 2,200 chum, and 3,500 pink.
“Just a few today,” my wife says.
“Too early. Wait for the real rains to come.”
Downward numbers reflect historic problems for this stream.
In 1958, gillnetters at the mouth collected most of the fish.
The creek – listed as “threatened” in the DFO’s Wild, Threatened, Endangered, and Lost Streams of the Lower Fraser Valley (1997) – has felt the pressures of urbanization.
The Fraser is smooth near the Stave River at Silverdale. Fishermen park off the highway near 287th Street,at the mouth. Upstream, they line the banks below Ruskin’s Hydro electric dam.
A case can be made for a fish ladder.
“A number of tributaries to the Stave River above the dam have good potential as salmon spawning streams,” notes the catalogue.
Still, numbers of coho, chum and pink below the dam have improved since the creation of spawning channel (1978) on the east side of the river.
In the, ’80s I took students here with Jim Taylor, a colleague, for egg takes. Taylor had my Grade 6s pulling up nets full of chum. They gleefully dispatched the fish and mixed eggs and milt in buckets for a private hatchery.
Silverdale Creek, just before Mission, is flanked by a new industrial park.
In 1955, the catalogue noted, “this stream could accommodate 10 to 20 times as many spawners without overcrowding.”
But, in 1959: “Smolts are suffering during summer months because of the increased demand for water from the creek by farmers.”
Failure to protect streams like this is inexcusable.
In 1947, the catalogue noted 1,500 pink.
Two years later, 3,500.
But, in 1965, only three.
From 1975 to ’78, none.
In Mission, I point out the old brick post office. DFO had the top floor. In 1979, I snared a temporary job with fisheries as a patrol officer.
The C.O. – John – looked like a sheriff in a southern U.S. town, like Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night), cowboy boots plunked on his desk. He wore a 38 revolver.
Did he wonder why a teacher with a masters degree wanted to chase poachers along the Fraser?
I said I desperately needed to revisit the real world.
As a patrol officer, I learned to respect the men I worked with. Enforcing the Fisheries Act was a thankless job. Counting spawners was a welcome change.
At Dewdney, we turn off the highway down Hawkins Pickles Road to Inches Creek.
In 1970, DFO improved spawning gravel here to create the first major chum improvement project in B.C.
Average egg-to-fry survival skyrocketed to 76 per cent.
We sip hot chocolate and count a few early fish.
In 1984, 16,000 chum dug redds here just below Inches Creek Hatchery.
As we enjoy the sound of water bubbling over rocks, my wife checks her watch.
“We’re not going to reach Weaver today.”
“That’s okay,” I say. “We’ll finish the trip in a couple of weeks.”
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.