You may have seen plenty of photos of massive Chinook salmon (also known as king salmon) caught on the Sacramento River. During the popular salmon runs in Northern California, fishermen are adept at circulating their trophies on social media, showing how they can land the biggest, baddest fish in the river.
There’s one legendary salmon that eluded those master fishermen, concluding its life in the waters of Battle Creek – at an astounding 85-pounds.
It was the first week of November in 2008 when a Fish and Game biologist noticed what he thought could be a dead salmon along the banks of the creek that feeds the Sacramento River near Anderson, California. Salmon carcasses are prevalent on this small creek, since it sits as the waterway feeding the Coleman Fish Hatchery, the largest salmon hatchery in the continental United States. As the biologist approached the carcass, not yet completely decomposed from the grim process of nature, he noticed that this fish was different – it was a king among kings.
What the biologist pulled out of the water was nearly the largest salmon ever recorded in California history – an 85-pound beast at 4-feet long. Biologists speculate that the fish was over 90 pounds when it died, surpassing the record of 88 pounds caught by Lindy Lindberg on the Sacramento River near Red Bluff in 1979.
These salmon historically spawned in the cold, clear waters of the Upper Sacramento, McCloud and Pit Rivers as well as in Battle Creek. The construction of Shasta and Keswick Dams, combined with an extensive hydroelectric project on Battle Creek, blocked access to their native habitats and forced them to spawn in the inhospitable waters downstream of Keswick Dam.
At the Coleman Fish Hatchery, approximately 14 million salmon and steelhead species are spawned year round in order to continue salmon populations in California. Once the salmon spawn in the natural spawning grounds, they die of natural causes.
Salmon possess the extraordinary ability to sense their native rivers from more than a thousand miles away in the open ocean. When it is time to spawn, they need no directions. Humans have tried and failed to understand this without success, and even the best GPS units cannot compare with a steelhead’s innate ability to find home. Every salmon knows where home is.
The 85-pound salmon remains a legend for fish enthusiasts and biologists throughout Northern California. Unfortunately, we may never see salmon of that size again on the west coast.