Salmon Sought in Napa River: "This Is the Time"

Looking for a fish: Photographer Lowell Downey is keeping his eye out for salmon heading up the Napa River to spawn. Have you seen them jumping?

The season's first big rainstorm didn't bring dangerous flooding to the valley, but it did wash out Lowell Downey's hopes of seeing and photographing Chinook salmon in the Napa River Sunday afternoon.

The Napa photographer and his teenaged son Forest drove up to Calistoga after the weekend's last storm cleared, stopping to take pictures along the way.

For a gallery of more than 50 photos from the storms, please see High Water in the Napa Valley.

Downey spoke with Napa Valley Patch as the fast-flowing, high waters of the Napa River surged past beneath the Lincoln Avenue bridge.

"The salmon have been waiting for the first big rains," Downey said, to help them get up the river to spawn. "This is a great winter storm for the salmon to come in (to the river)."

But Sunday, the river was flowing so fast and deep that the fish didn't need to jump rocks and sticks to make their way upstream: They could swim far beneath the surface, Downey said.

"I keep looking for the creeks where they're going to have to jump up to get into the river," he said. 

Now that the rains have subsided and the river level has dropped, Downey might have better luck seeing the fish jumping obstacles on their way upriver.

His zeal to observe the salmon is understandable: Coho salmon went extinct in the Napa River watershed in the 1960s, according to the Watershed Information Center & Conservancy (WICC) of Napa County website, and Chinook have only been sighted sporadically since the 1990s.

Click here to watch WICC's underwater video of Chinook salmon in the Napa River (also included with this article).

In a few weeks, Downey said, any Napa River salmon will be gone. We'll have to wait until next year's autumn and early winter rains before we have a chance to watch out for the Chinook again.

Have you seen salmon on the Napa River or local creeks? Where and when? Tell us in the comments.

For more about the winter storms, please see:

  • Watch: Flood Control Tames Napa Creek
  • High Water in the Napa Valley: Share Photos Here
  • Napa River Flood Threat Ebbs; Some Parks Closed
  • Napa Valley Dodges Flooding Bullet
  • What to Do if the Power Goes Out: Safety Tips from PG&E
  • Things to Do With Kids on Rainy Days in the Napa Valley

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Eric Muth December 07, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Try Milliken Creek near Silverado Country Club, I had seen some there years ago.
Belle (Orchid Lady) December 07, 2012 at 07:00 PM
I have seen them behind Copia, right at the bend in the river.
Ash Leigh December 07, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Not only have I seen salmon in the Napa River, by Lincoln - but there was a huge sea lion chasing them. This was about 4 weeks ago. Shocked me. Not enough time to break out the video on my phone. :(
Belle (Orchid Lady) December 08, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Silly sea lions! They are bait stealers! =)
Judy December 08, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Saw a couple jump last Sunday at Veterans Park. They were huge!


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