Why is it called the “White Salmon” River?
Go into any grocery’s fish counter in the Northwest and the only kind of salmon you can buy is pink, not white.
Why then is the town named White Salmon, the glacier on Mt Adams named White Salmon, the major river flowing from the White Salmon glacier on Mt Adams named White Salmon, and even the next “Little” drainage to the west all…White Salmon?
The bright pinkish-orange color we most commonly see on salmon (because we are most commonly eating the salmon, rather than seeing it in the rivers or oceans), is the color of an adult who has not yet spawned.
Once a salmon has spawned, they stop eating.
These particular individuals have reached the ultimate goal in nature: to make babies. Traveling thousands of miles as a young fry, navigating the vast salty expanse of the ocean searching for food, and returning back to the high mountain streams to the lay their eggs, the entire salmon’s life is devoted to successfully reproducing. The completion of this act is so powerful that the once completed, the fish no longer feels the need to sustain itself.
Just as most other living creatures, if the salmon stops eating, it will die.
Living off its own fat, the salmon’s flesh color then begins to change from pink to white or gray.
Thus, we see White Salmon.
When US Fish and Wildlife Biologist Rod Engle rafted down the White Salmon River with Wet Planet last Tuesday, he used this unique color change to count the number of fish who have died in pursuit of their destiny. While a fish biologist might get excited to see this, a fisherman typically is not. Many claim that a White Salmon could be smoked, although most assert that the fish is not good to eat once it turns white no matter how you cook it.
Author Susan Hollingsworth writes for Wet Planet Whitewater, Canoe & Kayak Magazine, American Whitewater, and any other river-related publication she can find.