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It's Time to Welcome Salmon Back to Putah Creek

Photo by Ken DavisIf this late fall is anything like the past two years, we hope to see migrating and spawning fall-run Chinook salmon in Putah Creek between mid-November and late-December. 

Central Valley fall-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) migrate upstream as adults from July through December and spawn from early October through late December. Because the Los Rios check dam is not removed until November 15, the Chinook salmon in Putah Creek don't start moving up the creek until mid-November. Most of the salmon observed in Putah Creek are hatchery strays, but there may be a small (and hopefully increasing) number of wild Putah Creek salmon returning each year. Because the overall population of wild fish is getting smaller and hatchery fish interbreed with them, Central Valley fall-run Chinook salmon are a Species of Concern under the federal Endangered Species Act.  

Below is some information about how to observe our salmon responsibly. Please realize the amazing journey these fish have taken and appreciate the opportunity to observe one of the marvels of Nature. 

Where to Go:  Please do not trespass on private property! The best places to try and see migrating salmon are from road overcrossings (Mace Blvd., Pedrick Rd., Railroad Ave.). Public access areas to try and observe spawners are: 

  • City of Davis South Fork Preserve
  • U.C. Davis Putah Creek Riparian Reserve
  • Winters Putah Creek Nature Park. A pair of salmon has spawned the past two years under the new Winters car bridge! 

Responsible Salmon Watching:  No fishing and no netting salmon. Putah Creek below Lake Solano is closed to fishing for salmon and wild steelhead trout. CDFW wardens will be patrolling on a regular basis. 

  • Please do not disturb spawning salmon. They need all the energy they have left to build a redd (gravel nest) and spawn (lay eggs and fertilize them)
  • Please do not wade in spawning areas
  • Keep dogs on leash - they may chase spawning salmon
  • Avoid quick movements that will startle the fish and waste their energy at this critical time in their life-cycle
  • Do not collect dead salmon or salmon parts. Only California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff or CDFW permit-holders may collect dead salmon
  • Report live salmon observations and locations of salmon carcasses to the Putah Creek Council office at (530) 795-3006 or
  • You can report poaching to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's 24-hour, seven days a week anonymous CalTIP hotline at 1-888-DFG-CALTIP (888-334-2258). Or, you can submit an anonymous tip to CDFW via text message by texting "CALTIP", followed by a space and your message, to 847411 (tip411).

How to Get a Good View:  Being able to see the salmon depends on the light and angle of the sun. 

  • Morning is a good time to observe
  • Observe spawning salmon from behind (downstream) so they don't see you -or- conceal yourself behind a tree, bush, or other "blind"
  • Polarized glasses are essential
  • To photograph or video salmon, use a telephoto lens with a polarizing filter. The sun must be at the right angle for the filter to work effectively. 

After the Spawn:  This is very important!

Do not wade or allow your dogs to wade in spawning areas (gravels) to prevent trampling the eggs and young salmon. The eggs will be in the redds for 30-40 days depending on the water temperature and the alevin (sac fry) stay in the gravel for another 4-6 weeks. 


Photo:  Pair of fall-run Chinook salmon spawning in an enhanced side channel in Putah Creek - (c) Ken Davis