Ducktrap Salmon

text and haiku by Kristen Lindquist

One great thing about my job with Coastal Mountains Land Trust is that every now and then they let me out of the office to spend time on one of our conservation properties. Our Ducktrap River Preserve has long been one of my favorite places.

Late this afternoon a group of us gathered there around fisheries biologist Peter Ruksznis to learn some of the mysteries of salmon migration and spawning. Peter had that day carried out his survey of salmon redds in the river, and as he’d expected, he found none. This was sad, but not unexpected–five years ago, he’d also found none, and this would have been the next generation of that spawning year. However, other “cohorts,” or multi-generational runs, have fortunately been more successful, making the Ducktrap the only Maine river with a natural run of Atlantic salmon. (All our other salmon rivers are currently stocked.) We also learned why the Ducktrap offers ideal habitat for salmon: 85% of it is permanently conserved, it’s a consistently cool river (in part due to heavy forest overhanging much of its banks) with appropriate riffles, a bed that’s the right texture for salmon nests, relatively few small-mouthed bass, which are voracious predators, and an appropriate amount of twists and turns.

Salmon leave the Ducktrap and swim to the West coast of Greenland, to return four years later  to spawn. They find their home river by smell. I couldn’t help but wonder how far out to sea a salmon can pick up the scent of its home waters, and what triggers are at work in that little fish brain to help it recognize where to go. It seems miraculous, really. We’re talking about a tiny handful of fish independently returning to a tiny river on the complex coastline of Maine after swimming to Greenland and back.

Thinking about the miracle of the continued return of salmon to the river (just not this year) put the river in a new light for most of us–a light that was only enhanced by actual end-of-day sunlight falling heavily, brightly, onto the river and the surrounding tangle of forest.

Clean, chilly riffles
lit by filtered fall sunlight.
Here there be salmon.