Get Inside a School of Spawning Salmon


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Russ Ricketts' money shot. Watch more river snorkeling videos here.

We all want to capture a money shot, whether that is literally a photograph, or a video, or a perfectly baked apple pie or a novel or a painting. Sometimes everything just comes together and diligence is rewarded.

It took Russ Ricketts, who wrote this guest post on river snorkeling for Adventure Ethics, about two years to land this video of a school of Chinook Salmon on its journey up the Wenatchee River, looking for natal streams to spawn. I asked him for the backstory.

Where were you? Was it a place you’ve shot before?
The footage was shot in the Wenatchee River, right behind my house in Leavenworth, Washington. This hole is famous for fish, and it's heavily fished because of that reason. I only swim when there's no fishermen. Otherwise it's just disrespectful.

How did you go about making the camera housing?
Nothing special, just a GoPro camera with the dive housing that corrects the fish-eye view. The real difference is the rubber-coated five-pound chunk of lead I attach the camera to. The currents are strong down there and a camera will just get blown off the rock you place it on. No footage then!

Are you ever able to see so many fish at once while snorkeling? Or does your presence tend to scare them off?
Never like this. We usually pass through this section in a single dive and always see lots of fish, but they never hold still. We don't chase fish, especially when they are in a bit of a fragile state like these Chinook are. Sometimes I'll sneak up on a school, but you're not fooling anybody when you get in a hole with 300 fish. I have found that if I make a single dive and place the camera on the bottom and leave the area I get much better footage.

Why is rain important for spawning?
The salmon will only move upstream when it rains, raising the water levels. These fish usually spawn in October.

There have been some major wildfires burning all around Leavenworth and the Wenatchee Valley that has lead to really poor air quality. Any rain in the forecast?
Not yet. Pray for rain. The forest fires are killing me: I need a filter for my snorkel!

—Mary Catherine O'Connor