Paddling down the Shuswap River is a delight at any time, but it is a special experience during the peak of the salmon run. The sockeye spawn in the gravel shallows in the upper river. The river is full of red-colored sockeye and black-sheaded spring salmon, most moving upstream, but some in redds near the shore, some leaping out of the water, and some dead ones along the shore. Eagles, seagulls, and crows line the shores scavenging. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans was there in river boats and on the shoreline counting fish and monitoring. As we paddled over the fish, we had to be careful not to collide with the salmon in numerous shallows.
It would be nice to launch at Mabel Lake, but the rapids in Skookumchuk Rapids Provincial Park have Class 111 – Class 1V whitewater for 3km. The Shuswap River has 10 hand launch sites from Mabel Lake to Mara Lake. Most have a sign at the turn-off, parking areas, and a good spot to launch and many also have outhouses and picnic tables. We launched at a designated hand launch site at Hupel, 29.5km by road from Enderby.
The route from Hupel to halfway between Cooke Creek and Dale's Hand Launch is mostly Class 11 water, but has some short sections of Class 111 too, all very doable, although there are some narrow spots and some obstacles too, so this section is for experienced paddlers. The river becomes slower as it continues to Enderby. For this last venture, we chose to exit at Riverside Hall, just past the Trinity Valley Bridge, a total of 26km.
The river below Ashton Creek is slower and runs through farmlands. On a previous day of paddling, we went all the way to Enderby, taking out at the bridge (link to story).
Paddling with salmon at the height of the migration on their four year cycle is a unique experience. We watched the fish and their predators with fascination as we quietly paddled downriver. This is a good time to carry an underwater camera, but it is not easy to get a good photo of the fish while moving downstream in a kayak or canoe. It is probably easier to do this from the shoreline with a bit of wading (Cooke Creek is a good place to do this). Along the way, we stopped for lunch in Shuswap River Islands Provincial Park, a section of oxbows, channels, islands, and sandbars. Cottonwoods line the riparian zone in this protected area. The upper river has an unspoiled feel to it and the huge sockeye run is indicative of a healthy river, even in rising temperatures. We have penciled in a return paddle in October of 2018 to meet the next generation of salmon as they return to the Shuswap River.