This spring, for the first time in nine decades, salmon fry will emerge from the scattered patches of spawning gravel in the gorge stretch of what may be the youngest riverbed in Washington.
Last November, redds were found in the Sultan between the diversion dam and Culmback Dam, which holds back Spada Lake.
That part of the river had been inaccessible to anadromous fish due to a sluiceway at the lower dam that blocked upstream migration, but was taken out last summer and fall to improve fish passage.
“It was kind of a surprise that, that soon after the project completion, coho would penetrate that far into the watershed,” Keith Binkley, a Snohomish County Public Utilities District manager, told The Daily Herald of Everett.
The diversion dam sits at river mile 9.7, roughly at the mouth of the gorge.
Glaciation during the last ice age blocked the Sultan’s ancestral path down what is today’s Pilchuck, and so the river shifted slightly to the south, down a trib of the “paleo-Pilchuck” that it was able to rapidly erode into today’s gorge, linking the Sultan with the Skykomish rather than the Snohomish.
“The Sultan River below Culmback Dam is thus only about 15,000 years old, which makes it relatively young feature by geologic standards,” reads a 2008 report from Stillwater Sciences for SnoCoPUD.
As a kid, I enjoyed playing in and fishing the lower end of the Sultan, along Trout Farm Road where we had a little farm. During fall we watched as humpies, coho and Chinook came upstream on their spawning runs, and we made occasional gold mining and fishing forays off the end of the road.
Growing older, I wanted to venture much further upstream, into the steep-sided upper canyon, which might as well be the most inaccessible place within 35 air miles of downtown Seattle.
I think this summer we’ll hike the Sultan River Canyon Trail, immediately below Culmback Dam, to see if we can’t spot any coho fry taking advantage of this newly reopened stretch of water, strengthening Puget Sounds best population of silvers.
Betcha steelhead might be interested in it too.
Editor’s note: To fly up the gorge, check out this video taken by Snohomish County PUD from a helicopter. Lots of interesting water