Belly Erosion on Chinook …
Depending on water conditions, Chinook entering Elk River may have a tough-go making it out of the ocean, across the beach, and into the lagoon. I have watched kings struggling against the waves and a sparse river outflow on an outgoing tide. They scoot around in water that might be two feet deep when suddenly it’s only six inches deep and flowing fast. These fish sometimes make it into the lagoon, across the sand, backs out of water. But they often shoot off sideways across a wave, turn completely around and head back into the surf. Some kings get stranded, high and dry, so to speak, on the beach.
Yes, there are usually several seals ready to take advantage of vulnerable fish.
I imagine steelhead must encounter the same conditions at times if the river’s winter flow is especially low.
One of my friends, a commercial salmon troller, has told me about catching kings off the Elk and the Sizes with red bellies. He was clear that these were not dark, sexually mature fish (although he has also caught Chinook in the ocean that are in an advanced stage of maturity), but bright fish with red bellies. The red belly, angler’s lore explains, is caused by the irritation of repeatedly rubbing across the sand, trying to get into the river from the ocean.
I wanted to share a few photos that illustrate this red belly condition. These photos are from a 44” male Elk River Chinook. The fish, other than the red belly appearance, would be considered fairly bright.
Very long tails on the sea lice this buck bore indicate that it is fresh from the salt, probably less than a day.
Note the golden arches in this photo, the tell-tale mark of a close encounter with a harbor seal. The area around this wound is redder and more irritated than the rest of the belly.
Finally, as this photo shows, the redness, hemorrhaging I assume, seems to have occurred under the scales, perhaps a consequence of too much rubbing and grating over the sand.
Please take these remarks and observations as my best effort to understand of what’s going on with these fish. There is so much more to learn. I encourage you to share any observations and opinions you might have on this topic.