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Aug. 13, 2022

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Spawn patrol: East Fork of Lewis River great place to watch fish on their journey

By , Columbian Editor
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A fish dives headfirst into Lucia Falls on Thursday. After a summer of drought, the water has risen, providing habitat for native fish.
A fish dives headfirst into Lucia Falls on Thursday. After a summer of drought, the water has risen, providing habitat for native fish. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The onset of fall and coming of seasonal rains is perfect timing for the salmon that spawn in the East Fork of the Lewis River.

At places such as Lucia Falls Regional Park, along Northeast Lucia Falls Road northeast of Battle Ground, visitors can watch the large fish jump the waterfalls on their way to their ancestral spawning grounds.

According to the Native Fish Society, the river supports chinook, coho and chum salmon, and summer and winter steelhead, which are ocean-going rainbow trout.

The East Fork predominantly flows through a steep, narrow canyon from its headwaters at 4,442 feet in Skamania County. It falls to near sea-level where it joins the North Fork Lewis River near ilani. At river mile 21, Lucia Falls blocks passage of most ocean-going fish, except for steelhead and an occasional chinook or coho.

Last week, a Columbian photographer watched as fish attempted to negotiate the falls. The river has risen by 3 feet this month, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which has a gauge near the Heisson Bridge. The stream flow increased from 211 cubic feet per second on Oct. 1 to 1,700 cubic feet per second by Oct. 29.

The bountiful rain has eased local drought conditions. Three months ago, Clark County was considered to be in severe drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska. Last week, the county was listed as having moderate drought with “drought removal likely.”

The river’s seasonal upwelling boosts the fish. According to the Native Fish Society, fall chinook enter the river from August to November, depending on the onset of the rain. They spawn in two segments: The early segment spawns right about now, with a later segment in November through January. Most fall chinook spawn from Lewisville Regional Park downstream toward the Daybreak area.

Spawning areas

Coho salmon enter the Columbia River and its tributaries from August through January. In the East Fork, the fish spawn primarily below Lucia Falls, both in the river and tributaries such as Lockwood, Mason and Rock creeks.

Chum salmon spawn in the lower reaches of the river. An important spawning ground for chum is the Columbia River near the Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center, along Evergreen Highway below the Interstate 205 Bridge.

Steelhead spawn throughout most of the East Fork Lewis River basin. Summer steelhead migrate from May through November, and spawn in the springtime.

Winter steelhead enter the river from December through April, and spawn from early March to early June. In 2014, the state designated the East Fork as a Wild Steelhead Gene Bank, and no longer stocks the stream with hatchery steelhead.

Some fishing is allowed in the river but not at Lucia Falls. So if you go, take your camera but not your fishing pole.

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