Snorkeling With Salmon

By Sean Smith

Every year, from August through October, people around the world will find their way to a Salmon bearing river or creek, in BC, either to fish or to watch the thousands of spawning species make their way to their spawning grounds. In that aspect, Campbell River, located on the East Coast of Vancouver Island, about 90 minutes North of Nanaimo is no different. This past year, the count gate at the Quinsam Hatchery saw well over 1 million Pink Salmon, make their way up the Quinsam River (a tributary of the Campbell River).  This heavy industry town, known globally as the “Salmon Capital of the World”, does have a much more unique way to experience Salmon spawning, however. In fact, it is the only place, in the world, that you can experience it; Snorkeling with Salmon.

Destiny River Adventures (www.destinyriver.ca) has long been known for its white water rafting adventures, especially down the roller coaster that is the Nimpkish River. In 2012, however, comedian and television show host Rick Mercer arrived at the invitation of Destiny River’s owner, Jamie Turko, to come and experience their Snorkel with Salmon adventure. With GoPro HD cameras attached, Mercer floated down the Campbell River and pronounced it one of the coolest things that he had ever done, sharing that view with his television audience. The following year, with ever-increasing numbers of salmon species returning, Turko dove head long into building a Social Media presence for the business and the visitor numbers began to increase. By the 2014 season, his HD video of “Walls of Salmon” were getting thousands of views and his season was selling out of daily trips. Media attention increased, too, with everyone from NBC to Dutch broadcasters, coming out to experience floating down the river, surrounded by thousands of salmon, as they made their migration back to where their lives began.

This wild life adventure is, quite literally, for anybody. There is no long hike out into nature or any special skills required. If you are between the ages of 5 and 95, you can take part. All of the gear is supplied (mask, snorkel, wet suit, fins and floatation device) and, after a brief bit of safety training, you are out in the river with your guide, floating through the crystal clear waters of the Campbell River, watching Pinks, Coho, Sockeye, Chinook and Chum (over various times of the season) make their way up to the various spawning grounds.

The snorkeling adventure also comes with a wide variety of bonuses, as well, as spawning season is also hunting season for other wild life. It is not uncommon to see Eagles soaring overhead or savaging salmon carcasses on the shore. Occasionally, a Black Bear (maybe even one with cubs), will spotted wandering the banks of the river and waiting for a fish to swim just a little too close to the shore, before pouncing on it. If luck is on your side, you can make your way to the mouth of the Campbell River, around Tyee Spit, and possibly catch a pod of Orca, chasing salmon in Discovery Passage. It is one of the many great things about the community of Campbell River, where the nature is only minutes outside your door.

There is also a new adventure, opening up in the Campbell River area, for those who, literally, want to dive into the experience of salmon migrations to spawning grounds. National Geographic published photographer Eiko Jones launches Salmon Safari’s this 2015 season, guiding scuba divers to the deeper portions of the local river systems and exploring the wide variety of environments where the salmon congregate, on their way to their final destinations. For those looking to have a really unique diving experience, this is one to look for. (www.salmondiving.com)

Campbell River has a wide variety of accommodations, ranging from expensive luxury to family economy, as well as having a variety of dining options (many located right near the water front). Travel options include a 25-minute flight out of Vancouver or the more leisurely trip via BC Ferries to Nanaimo and a scenic drive up the Island. A warning, however, to all those visiting the area, for the first time; getting to Campbell River is easy. Having to leave it behind is hard.

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Christine Ly

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