By Susan Hollingsworth

As the commotion of a busy whitewater rafting and kayaking summer slowly dissipates as the chilly fall months get closer, other forms of excitement are filling the air around the White Salmon River.Counting fish above Condit Dam with US Fish and Wildlife Service

These days the fish are causing this commotion.

There are not only fish in our river, there are monster Chinook salmon in our river.

These fish did not come her gradually. They arrived all at once, filling the river with life and reminding us that the rapids along the Wild and Scenic stretch of the river actually connect with the broad and distant ocean.

During Wet Planet’s white water rescue course in late September, participants swam through eddy lines, set up rope systems, and stood by the river for three days straight. Suddenly, a Thule Chinook salmon the size of a fireman’s arm broke through the surface and flew upstream.

A moment of silent disbelief preceded the flurry of excitement from both the local boaters in the group, as well as the fireman and river guides from other regions.

Heather Herbeck, a long-time Wet Planet kayak instructor and river guide as well as BZ Corner local resident, could not have been filled with more excitement one morning at work. The first words out of her mouth were about the eagle she saw over the White Salmon River, clutching a salmon in its talons.

US Fish and Wildlife service employees are even giddy with the fish commotion. Kira stopped by Wet Planet one afternoon to tell us that they had already counted over 100 salmon nests, or redds, above Northwestern Lake and Condit Dam, and that was over a week ago.

Cutting the tail means that the fish has been counted.Tuesday, October 4, 2011 Wet Planet guide Lance Reif escorted Rod Engle from Fish and Wildlife Service down the river to get a more intimate idea of what is going on with these salmon.  After transporting the final load of fish above the dam, the Service estimated that up to 700 Chinook salmon have now been moved above the Condit Dam removal site.  Lance and Rod counted around 170 redds, as well as carcasses of salmon who have completed their life cycle.  To help determine numbers, the tails of fish that have been counted were removed.

While the fish may not be making the journey by themselves yet (see previous Transporting Salmon blog post for full story), their presence is the first physical difference to the river as a result of Condit Dam’s removal.

Just by swimming in the river, an act they have been doing for thousands of years, the White Salmon River already feels like it is gaining back an identity that was pushed aside for the past 100 years.

This is the White Salmon River, and now you can even see White Salmon swimming up it’s incredible whitewater rapids.

Author Susan Hollingsworth writes for Wet Planet Whitewater, Canoe & Kayak Magazine, American Whitewater, and any other river-related publication she can find.