McLane Creek Chum

Local Streams

Over the last three decades, the chum salmon populations of Puget Sound have increased to the point that they are now the most abundant salmon species in the region. Chum salmon are distributed throughout the river systems of the Puget Sound region, which includes the streams of north and south Puget Sound, Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This region's chum stocks have been grouped into three run timings; summer (spawning in September and October), fall (spawning in November and December) and winter (spawning in January and February). The fall run is the largest segment of overall chum returns; typically making up 90% of the annual total number of chum salmon returning to Puget Sound. (Source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) McLane Creek chum are part of this fall run return.

At the beginning of the winter rains, adult chum salmon return to the icy waters to reproduce and then die. The chum salmon spawn anywhere from the lower mouth of McLane Creek up past the protected area of the McLane Creek Nature Trail. They also spawn in tributaries to McLane Creek: Swift, Cedar Flats and Perkins Creeks. WDFW staff do fish surveys during the spawning season to count the number of salmon along different reaches of the creeks. For the past ten years, an estimated 6 to 10,000 chum have returned to McLane Creek. Swift Creek had an estimated 12 to 25,000 and Perkins Creek, 700 to 3,000.

The adult salmon are colored with hues of brown, green, purple and black. The males have intricate mottling of purple, green and brown in bar patterns that circle the body cavity. The females have this similar coloration, but it is faint. Their primary distinguishing color is a dark stripe running from the gills to the tail. Both males and females have the ability to “adjust” the coloration on their bodies. Males can show a dark strip similar to a female, and females can minimize the coloration of their stripe. The color changes are part of the courtship behaviors swimming toward and on the spawning grounds.

Chum are not jumpers, and will stop migrating if a large obstacle is in the way. A few years ago, a large log jam up creek of the Delphi Road Bridge forced more chum to spawn in Swift Creek. Males arrive to the creek before the females. As the fsh approach freshwater, their bodies are changing to spawn. They stop eating, change from marine colors to spawning colors, start developing eggs or milt, change osmotic body functions to adjust from salt to fresh water, and males and females develop teeth, with the males developing a prominent hooked snout and impressive teeth.

On the spawning grounds, it's the only time during the salmon's life that people can approach the fish and watch their amazing, but slow, courtship and reproduction. The observer must be quiet and still and be extra careful not to spook the fish, which an unsuspecting sudden movement can do. Children and dogs should be monitored and everybody needs to stay back and out of the creek. McLane Creek has three structures to watch the fish from: two viewing platforms and the bridge. Often the water is low, so it's easy to see the salmon. Salmon Stewards carry polarized viewers, which can enhance viewing on the rare sunny November day. Eventually, the spawning grounds will include both live and dead salmon. Late in the season, you can smell the salmon carcasses from the trail.