ISSAQUAH, Wash. - They used to count them by the dozens but today there are 300, 400, 500 maybe even more kokanee salmon running up Laughing Jacobs Creek.
Kokanee are descendants of sockeye salmon that were somehow cut off from the ocean centuries ago. They turn Sammamish and other lakes into their ocean and provide a healthy dose of nutrients and food for the tributaries when they run up the streams to spawn.
They have been in serious decline in Lake Sammamish over the last several decades. Biologists were worried they might lose the species entirely.
A century ago they swarmed up Lake Sammamish tributaries like Laughing Jacobs Creek in the tens of thousands. Development, pollution and other changes are believed to have reduced their numbers to the dozens.
"We were completely caught off guard," said Daniel Lantz, an environmental scientist with The King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.
Lantz and other biologists are at a loss for the sudden improvement of fish but believe conditions in Lake Sammamish may have just been ideal for the last three years before the fish returned to the streams to spawn.
They are hopeful environmental problems like low oxygen levels in the lake may be improving. The fish are occasionally caught by accident by people fishing for cutthroat or other fish in Lake Washington. Kokanee must always be released when that happens. But if the population continues to rebound, kokanee fishing may some day return to Lake Sammamish.