Ben and Lucie at the Locks

B & L at the Locks

M and I heard an NPR feature on salmon spawning in the Cedar River on Thursday morning before we had to pick the kids up from school. It’s a long way to the Cedar River but the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard has a fish ladder so we decided to make that our afternoon destination. We thought we might catch a glimpse of salmon passing through on their way to the spawning ground. Win or lose that bet, the Locks are a great place to take kids on a sunny afternoon.

We checked out the Locks:


We saw a tug with gravel heading for Lake Washington:


And pleasure boats heading for the Sound:

Boat Locks

We eventually got to the fish ladder but the big salmon run had already passed through. This is what a salmon looks like before the journey upriver gets arduous:

Fish Ladder

And this is what the female looks like when she is at the spawning ground; with a swollen red body, protruding snout, and sharp teeth. The salmon ladder allows the fish to pass by the Locks heading for their spawning grounds in the rivers upstream. There the females dig shallow depressions in the gravel where they deposit their eggs. These spawning beds in the gravel are called redds. They use their tails to sweep away the gravel. You can see in this picture that the tail is white. That’s because she has scraped away all of the skin, leaving only bone, in the process of preparing her redd. She deposits her eggs in the redd and the male fertilizes them. She then covers the eggs by distributing gravel from the upstream side of the redd. Redds can be as long as 25 -30 feet and contain roughly 5000 eggs. She may make as many as 7 redds before she exhausts her supply of eggs. Next year I think we’ll take the kids to the Cedar River to see the real deal.


We had a really good day at the locks. We learned how boats get from the Lake to the Sound. We learned how the salmon get past the Locks and how they prepare their redds. And everyone got to burn off some kid energy.

B&L Locks

On top of that it was a beautiful autumn afternoon.

More tomorrow…

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