Q-Tip: Kokanee Salmon Festival

Saturday and Sunday will highlight the 11th annual Kokanee Salmon Festival, which will be held at the U.S. Forest Service Visitor's Center at South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

To reach the Visitor's Center, take U.S. 50 west from Carson City to its junction with California S.R. 89 at South Lake Tahoe. Then, take S.R. 89 north toward Camp Richardson and Tahoe City. Just past Camp Richardson, the paved road to Fallen Leaf Lake will be on your left. Continue on S.R. 89 for several hundred more yards. The paved road on your right leads to the Visitor's Center.

The Kokanee Salmon Festival is centered around the spectacular, annual spawning migration run of the Kokanee salmon, which is a landlocked version of the ocean-going Sockeye salmon.

Each year, thousands of the Kokanee make their way from the deep waters of Lake Tahoe to their birth places in Taylor Creek on the grounds of the visitor's center.

Each fall, Mother Nature calls the mature (four-year old) salmon to return to where they were born.

As that time approaches, the males develop a humped back and a heavy, hooked jaw to equip them for battles with other males for spawning beds.

Both the males and the females gradually change from their normal, sleek, shiny silver/blue color to a bright red with ugly white splotches, all over their bodies.

The salmon then travel up Taylor Creek, display their spawning colors to attract a mate and having done so, pair off. Then, they battle other Kokanee to protect a small patch of gravel where they make their nests, known as "Redds." Once the female has deposited her eggs in the Redd and the male has fertilized them, their mission in life is over and they both die shortly afterwards.

After about 100 days, the tiny Kokanee fingerlings, called eye-sac fry, emerge from the gravel beds, journey down the creek to reach Lake Tahoe and then, it's their turn to continue the amazing life cycle of that fascinating fish.

This year's Kokanee Salmon Festival will feature the following:

Saturday: Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., self-guided nature walks and trailside exhibits on the Rainbow Trail. That trail takes you to the spawning Kokanee in both Taylor Creek and in the "stream profile" chamber.

That chamber features exhibits and the floor-to-ceiling window allows visitors to look into the clear waters of Taylor Creek to observe the salmon and other fish in their native habitat.

In addition, there will be:

-- Visits by "Sammy Salmon," the official mascot of the festival. At over five feet long (or tall), he is the world's largest Kokanee salmon and the only Kokanee known to walk on his tail fins!

-- A salmon barbecue (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) on both days, served by the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Center. The cost is $10 per person for salmon (Pacific Ocean variety), corn on the cob, coleslaw, roll and beverage.

-- Educational booth by Project Kokanee and the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery.

-- A black bear display by the Nevada Division of Wildlife.

-- A California Dept. of Fish and Game display booth.

-- Food and drink concessions.

-- At 2 p.m. on both days, a presentation of the Kokanee salmon life cycle will be held in the amphitheater.

Sunday: Will feature a repeat of all of the activities listed for Saturday, plus a children's 1/2 mile tadpole trot and adult 5K, 10K and half-marathon fun-runs.

For information, call Michael St. Michel of the U.S. Forest Service at (530) 573-2611 or the U.S.F.S. Lake Tahoe Visitors Center at Taylor Creek at (530) 573-2674.

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