Swimming upstream

Posted on November 16, 2011


This, I should have written a week or two ago, is the time of year when the salmon come back to spawn. The Bear, the Boyne, the Jordan, the Elk—the rivers that flow into Torch Lake, or Lake Charlevoix, or Elk Lake, and on into the bay or the big lake itself—are full of big fish swimming upstream with fierce abandon. The life force is at work.

Now it is a bit later, and the salmon are dead. Such a thought, eh? But that is how it works. (If you click on a photo, the gallery will turn into a self-timed slideshow.)

If you are a salmon, you must survive the gelatinous spawn stage, get to be a fingerling, lay low in the weeds, learn to avoid the muskies and the otters. Then you can swim out into the great world, learn to avoid the gulls and the Canada geese and the great eagles. Learn to tell food from a lie wrapped around a steel hook. Spend a couple or three summers out there in Big Blue. Become one of the biggest things in your world. One day, feel a certain pull to return. In fact, you find that you will do anything to return. You will fight, you will gasp, you will spend your last ounce of life force to return – and spawn, and die. That is what salmon do.

Except for this.

There are almost no naturally reproduced salmon in these waters. The streams are too warm for the fingerlings. Nearly all of the salmon are the product of fish hatcheries operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Nevertheless, salmon will do what they do. And sometimes it may be that a natural-born salmon will make it all the way into the big lake, and begin the cycle all over again. Imagine that.