Hundreds of Kokanee salmon were visible Oct. 2, 2017, in Taylor Creek on the south end of Lake Tahoe after a record water year. Photo by Lisa Herron, USFS.
The last month’s big storm helped salmon spawn in Taylor Creek, an event that was threatened due to severe drought conditions.
People flock to Taylor Creek each October to watch kokanee salmon fight their way upstream. Several people on Tuesday were taking in the sites of the red-colored fish from a bridge on California State Route 89.
According to Forest Service Aquatic Biologist Sarah Muskopf, kokanee typically spawn anytime between September and February when there are increased stream flows and cooler temperatures.
The Forest Service releases water reserved in Fallen Leaf Lake each October, to simulate a kokanee run. However, because of low water levels, the event was canceled this year.
But the historic storm that hit that basin in late October allowed the salmon to enter Taylor Creek.
“The large rain event increased flows in all tributaries around Lake Tahoe significantly,” Muskopf said. “Flows in Taylor Creek went from about 8 cubic feet per second to 400 cfs. Flows are dropping but this event opened the mouth of Taylor Creek and ensured spawning fish could get upstream.”
The future of the Kokanee wasn’t necessarily at risk because of Taylor Creek’s low flow last month as they look for other tributaries.
“Because kokanee are stimulated by numerous factors to spawn, they would have either spawned in other tributaries that could meet their life history needs or waited for a large precipitation event and spawned later in the season (now through February),” Muskopf said.
So, while this spawning event is good news for people who enjoy watching the fish move upstream, Muskopf thinks this tells a bigger story about the alarming lack of water the basin has received in past years.
“As an aquatic biologist, I think the precipitation is more significant than the run. We are in a severe drought which is significantly and negatively affecting habitat for native aquatic species among other things,” Muskopf said. “Stream temperatures are reaching levels deadly for many of our native species by late July/early August but optimal for warm water invasive species. This trend is alarming.”
According to all 62 tributaries draining into Lake Tahoe, and the one draining out (Truckee), experienced the drought. They experienced very low flows, many went intermittently dry in some locations, and saw elevated water temperatures.
Muskopf added, “The majority of our native species are spring spawners where water temperatures and stream flows are not as much a concern currently, however, these very low flow conditions and elevated water temperatures for stream dwelling species negatively impacts reproductive success.”