It’s salmon season, and fishermen, both recreational and commerical, are out in force. However, there’s more than one way to get up close and personal with the scaley beauties. If observing salmon sounds more fun than harvesting them, the Ballard Locks ‘ fish ladder is the place to be.
The free viewing area allows visitors the chance to see salmon heading into freshwater to spawn. July is the best time to see sockeye (red) salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), while Chinook (king) salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) show up in force in mid-to-late August. Coho (silver) salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) are best viewed in late September. Steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), which are actually the same species as rainbow trout, pass through from late February through March.
The Ballard Locks fish ladder is considered unique by fish- ladder standards because it sits where fresh and saltwater meet. Most fish ladders are located further upriver with freshwater on both sides. At the Ballard Locks, freshwater from Lake Washington is pumped into the saltwater side of the locks as “attraction water.” The salmon catch the scent of Lake Washington and follow their olfactory senses right up the ladder and to their spawning grounds.
The fish ladder has 21 “weirs”, which are essentially steps the fish must navigate to pass through. This is a much easier voyage than pre-1976 when there were only 10 weirs making for a steeper climb.
Bring a picnic basket, as a visit to the locks in summer is a perfect afternoon waiting to happen.