Fish & Fisheries

Salmon Cam: Watch Migratory Fish Live

Salmon returning to spawn in the Shasta River. Photo © Bridget Besaw

Note to fish fans: Salmon Cam is only visible during daylight hours. If it’s dark, check back tomorrow!

Update, November 17, 2016: 

Salmon Cam has been taken down for 2016. We hope you enjoyed watching the fish. Tune in next year for more fish, and be sure to check out our recent post on other favorite wildlife cams.

Update, October 14, 2016: 

If you’re a fan of Salmon Cam, you may have noticed a change of scenery when you’re viewing.

As of October 11, the cam has been moved to a new location on Big Springs Creek, a major tributary to the Shasta River.  Here we hope to see spawning by adult Chinook salmon (also commonly known as king salmon).

These fish have recently entered the Shasta watershed and are now finding their way to the upper river.  The total run of Chinook expected to enter the Shasta this year is only about 3300 individuals, about half of the recent average return.  We hope that even with these reduced numbers, you should still have at least a few weeks of good live viewing of spawning behavior.

And even though this year’s returning salmon are down, consider this: In 2008, you could have watched this cam for hours and not seen a single fish.

The fish you see are benefiting from a unique collaboration between ranchers, water districts, agencies and conservation organizations. For years, these partners have worked to improve fish habitat.

Projects included fencing cows out of the streams, screening of water diversions to keep fish from accidentally ending up in fields and ditches and planting trees to stabilize stream banks.

Salmon returning to spawn in the Shasta River. Photo © Bridget Besaw
Salmon returning to spawn in the Shasta River. Photo © Bridget Besaw

The Nature Conservancy purchased two ranches in the late 2000s to demonstrate how working cattle ranches can support and enhance salmon habitat.

The latest success is due in part to water users voluntarily leaving water in the stream to provide fish the water they need for migration and spawning.

Many viewers enjoyed watching the near-constant action of the smolts during this summer and early fall. We hope you now enjoy watching the adults return to their spawning streams, which will also mark the end of their spectacular life journeys.

Please post your questions and interesting observations in the comments section below.

Original, August 9, 2016:

Welcome to Salmon Cam, where you can enjoy the underwater happenings of a California salmon river throughout the day, on your computer or device.

The Salmon Cam is located in a tributary creek on The Nature Conservancy’s Shasta Big Springs Ranch. The camera is powered on in daylight hours (currently between 7 am and 7 pm Pacific time). Throughout the season, it will provide a view of migrating Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout.

The Shasta River shown flowing through The Nature Conservancy's Shasta Big Springs Ranch below Mount Shasta in northern California. Photo © Bridget Besaw
The Shasta River shown flowing through The Nature Conservancy’s Shasta Big Springs Ranch below Mount Shasta in northern California. Photo © Bridget Besaw

Watch the changes and post your sightings and questions in the Comments section below. One of our staff will respond to any questions. The Conservancy’s Chris Babcock will also post periodic updates on what to look for in the river at different times of the fall.

Salmon Cam is located in a part of the stream fed by cool (13-15 degrees Celsius) springs, the perfect temperature for juvenile coho salmon. This is a good time of year to see the juveniles on the cam. The nearby Shasta River is too warm during the summer, so springs like this provide coho with refuges where they can grow during the hot summer months.

And grow they do: the cool waters are naturally rich in nutrients, which allow for vigorous growth of aquatic plants. These plants in turn provide food for prodigious numbers of aquatic invertebrates, which in turn are food for coho and other fish.

Coho that rear in this area have some of the fastest growth rates recorded under natural conditions.

To identify coho on the camera: look for dark vertical bars along their sides (called parr marks) and large bright eyes. They are most reliably visible on the screen in the mid to late afternoon, when the viewing pool is in deeper shadow and provides the most cover from predators including great blue herons and kingfishers.

You may also see speckled dace, a skinny fish that have a darkish stripe down the length of their body, and golden shiner, a species that somewhat resembles a dull goldfish.

Note that, as is the case in many rural areas, there is no fast internet available in a reasonable price range, so upload speeds can be slow. This means that sometimes the salmon cam video can be jumpy. But most times you will be rewarded with excellent fish viewing.

Enjoy watching fish throughout the season, let us know your observations and post your questions. We look forward to talking fish migrations with you!

Matt Miller

Matt Miller is director of science communications for The Nature Conservancy and editor of the Cool Green Science blog. A lifelong naturalist and outdoor enthusiast, he has covered stories on science and nature around the globe. Matt has worked for the Conservancy for the past 14 years, previously serving as director of communications for the Idaho program. More from Matt

Follow Matt

Join the Discussion

Please note that all comments are moderated and may take some time to appear.

84 comments

  1. Is it feasible to have something in frame to indicate the size or scale of what is in the frame? A simple set of rulers in the foreground & in the rear, or go big with a st of lasers that are 4″ apart.

    1. Good idea! I will put in some scale bars next time I get to the site. I was also thinking of putting in a thermometer, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to read it.

    2. I put in a scale bar. The white pipe and bolt (for weight) are 4.5″ long.

      1. Brian… I’m not liking they artificial look of the scale bar, and plan to remove it. The fish on screen are about 80-100mm at this age (about 3-4 inches).

  2. Just what is it about fresh water and/or spawning that makes a lovely salmon into a true monster fish with fangs and a red skin and a severely bent spine?

    1. I always assumed that it was the result of hormonal changes around spawning but as I am not a fish physiologist it could well be something more complicated. Any fish physios out there that can chime in?

  3. 6 beautiful coho salmon on the camera simultaneously today (Sunday 4:45 PT) – about how old are the juveniles that we’re seeing on camera now?

    1. These fish were spawned in the time between the end of November and early January. They spend the 8-12 weeks after that incubating in the gravels, and another 8 weeks or so still in the gravels as aelvins living off of the reserves in their egg sacs. They emerge from the gravels and begin to actively feed in March/April, so the fish on camera have been swimming around and feeding for about 5 months.

    2. I have as well only ever seen a maximum of 6 at once, but I have thought of a way to check this: drawing and comparing parr marks. Assuming the parr marks are relatively stable on a day to day and week/week basis at this age, I should be able to draw the long/short/dot pattern along the sides of the fish. Others do this to I.D. individual tigers, leopards, white-fronted geese, etc. Want to be an independent eye and see if we come up with the same individuals and numbers? (The idea could be a time vortex and in need of abandonment!)

      1. Hi Chris, My time is limited and my drawing skills are pretty weak, but I could help out by taking screen caps & sending them to you – those would capture the time as well.

  4. How long is the Shasta river where does it start or go through does it reach far north up to Oregon State..thank youdo you try to keep the river natural for the salmon and other wildlife

    1. The Shasta River rises from springs and snow melt water just north of Mt. Shasta. It flows north and enters the Klamath River near the town of Yreka (and is entirely in California). The camera is in the water about 35 miles upstream of where the Shasta enters the Klamath, and the Klamath flows from there 180 miles to the ocean. The Nature Conservancy works to protect and enhance the Shasta River for salmon (coho and Chinook), steelhead/rainbow trout, and other native fish and wildlife. TNC works with state and federal agencies, other conservation groups, ranchers and tribes to advance conservation in the Shasta Valley and elsewhere.

  5. How and why do the salmon seem to “hover” in one spot in the stream?

    1. They are eating bugs and other food particles, like bits of algae, floating downstream!

      1. Yes, the fish hold in spots that don’t take a lot of their energy to remain in. These are sometimes called velocity breaks, and the fish can dart out from them to eat food particles that pass within easy reach.

  6. Matt – Thank you! It’s great to bring the underwater world to the desktop. I’m very curious about the camera set up and power source. We’ve been looking for a better system than just using fish counters, but are often challenged by lack of power supply.

    1. The camera and microwave output is powered by a 12 volt battery that is charged by a photovoltaic panel.

  7. Love it! Far better than any eagle cam – brings a peace and relaxation to my day so I plan on tuning in often. I was privileged to be at Big Springs Ranch in the early phases of this restoration project where the goal was to demonstrate that cows, salmon and people can coexist on one farm. Delighted to see proof that it can be done – salmon returning to this iconic place! Goes to show you just how resilient nature is. If you restore it, they will come!

  8. I went a few days without watching and the salmon already seem bigger. How fast can they grow? Or are my eyes fooled because they’re closer to the camera?

  9. The white scale bar is too bright for the darker background – the camera can’t get both fields correct. It also looks like some garbage that was tossed into the water. I like the video, though.

  10. Beautiful!!
    I’ve always been curious…..what would happen if you took the salmon when they reached the mouth of the river and instead of letting them fight their way back upstream to spawn and die, loaded them into specially equipped trucks and brought them to the spawning place? Would they still die? Wouldn’t they be in better physical condition to spawn and make lots more salmon babies? Couldn’t they repeat the trip out to sea again? I would love to know!

    1. The salmon that come to spawn in the Shasta do not have to get past any dams, but in some situations on rivers with dams that lack fish ladders or other ways for salmon to pass, the way that you have proposed is the way that is used. In fact, this technique of trap-and-haul is being proposed for winter-run Chinook salmon to be re-introduced to the lower McCloud River (which flows off of the south side of Mt. Shasta). Regardless of how the salmon arrive at their spawning grounds, they are destined to die after spawning. But this is a good thing and is an evolutionary strategy to fertilize the waters and thus increase the amount of bugs that the young salmon will be able to feed on. So with their death the adults contribute to a richer and more bountiful ecosystem for their offspring.

  11. the fish cam is great! how long is that light? I’m trying to get an idea of how big the fish are.
    thanks,
    Annette

  12. Lots of parr there today, Sept 16. Very cool. My brother Bob is going to figure out a way to get up on his big screen TV at home.

  13. are the salmon laying eggs? and the fish are eating them? what are the fish with red on them, they look like trout, do trout and salmon inhabit the same waters?

    1. The fish that have the sometimes reddish tint in their fins are young coho salmon. These will go out to sea when high water comes with the rains in the fall, and they will return to spawn as adults after growing for two years in the North Pacific ocean. The salmon look very much like rainbow trout, which also live in the Shasta River.

  14. Hi — great to see the fish in their natural habitat! Thank you SO much for the opportunity. Is there any way to get that silver bar on the riverbed out of the picture?

  15. The Shasta River shown in the photo (NC’s Big Spring Ranch) would be more beneficial for salmonids if it had functioning riparian buffers.

    1. Immediately after TNC bought Big Springs Ranch, we installed electric fence to keep cattle out of the river and riparian zone for the first time in over 100 years. We found funding in 2009 and installed standard fencing to take the place of the electric, and also planted over 6000 riparian trees (native willows, birch and alder.) So, while the riparian zone is not as robust as it was before cattle, it is well on its way to being restored to its natural ecological function.

  16. This is F’kin’ cool! What a great way to spend money. Beats the hell out of bombs and bullets. I used to have access to a site in Alaska that streamed live bears feeding on spawning salmon. That was also very cool.

  17. Do the speckled dace live here year round or do they move to the coast also? Are they full grown? What is the depth of field here or distance from the front of the camera lens to the sticks in the background?

    1. The dace are year round residents of the river, and do not migrate. The depth of the viewing field is about 2-2.5 feet.

  18. The biggest evil is inequality. From the “The War on drugs” to the military-industrial complex to mass incarceration, they are all faces of inequality. The extraction industries such as oil, fossil fuels, Big Timber and mining tend to enslave poor and working people. They are pitted against each other through class and race. It is the myth that humans are separate from nature that is the root of all the evils.

  19. What a fantastic view of nature that I would not have without this cam! What a joy! Thank you TNC for your efforts to protect Coho! They definitely need our help. I saw two Coho simultaneously in cam this morning 9/18/16. 6-8 speckled dace.

  20. Hi, I would like to set up a similar cam with good quality in a saltwater tank? Any idea of what set up and camera?
    Happy with suggestions.

    1. Enter “splashcam” in your search engine and it will take you to a site that has some options.

  21. Just wanted to say thank you for offering this fish cam. As someone grew up with lots of lakes around, but who lives in a much drier area (Flagstaff, AZ), I love being able to check out aquatic critters now and then! This is a great site for general education as well. Thank you!

  22. Matt check out the Eye of the whale fb page. It is a really small group who does humpback research in Prince William Sound. One of those gals did a app called What’s Up With Whales? that is pretty cool. It is STEM based but also in a multi level platform I have never seen before and the science is great.

  23. Hello,
    Love the camera! This afternoon at 5:37 p.m. CST I saw a “small” speckled bottom dwelling fish that somewhat resembled a catfish in body shape. Can someone tell me what it was? It stayed consistently along the bottom as long as it was in view of the camera.
    Thank you! 🙂

    1. My best guess is that it was a riffle sculpin (Cottus gulosus). I have seen them every so often when snorkeling in the river.

      1. Hi Chris,

        I searched for a picture of the riffle sculpin and it was the bottom dwelling fish that I saw on the camera. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question! 🙂

  24. So COOL! I saw one this morning and it looked very happy! (I think I saw it wave! 😉 hehe)

  25. It’s the first day of fall! What changes can we expect to see in the underwater world?

    1. We may see the juvenile salmon less frequently soon or not at all. The location where I put the camera is a cool spring area and serves as a refuge of colder water over the summer, when temperatures in many other parts of the river system are to warm to be tolerated. In the past they have tended to redistribute around the system when water temperature moderate.

  26. It seems like the cam view has changed. Is that a large tree in the water? I understand this large trees can help create good salmon habitat by creating shady places, slowing the current, providing increased food supplies from insect drop, and creating pools for summer water. There was a discussion earlier about restoring riparian habitat. Comments on this? Am I seeing what I think? Where did it come from? No salmon at my viewing time. 9/24/16 12: 46.
    Thanks again TNC for helping protect Coho!
    Lets take out the dams on the Klamath!

  27. Will the Conservancy be holding an Open House on its Big Spring Ranch property again this year? Do you expect to see larger spawning salmon here or perhaps be repositioning the camera into the main body of the Shasta River during the fall run?

    1. Unfortunately there will be no open house event at the ranch this year, due to lack of staff power. But I am getting ready to move the camera to a new site on Big Springs Creek that is reliably used by spawning Chinook salmon. These adult fish have begun to return to the Shasta River and should be in the upper watershed in the next few weeks.

      1. Sounds fantastic! I can’t wait! Thanks again for sharing this with us. Not many salmon sightings in Texas otherwise! 🙂

    1. Yes, I have also seen very few fish on the camera lately beside the speckled dace. The weather has gotten much cooler and the coho can now access most of the river, and these ones may leave their over-summer cold water refuge now. This means I will need to spend a few days next week taking the system down, and moving it to the site where there will soon be spawning Chinook salmon to watch. Be patient while the broadcast is off line.. there will be plenty of action soon!

    1. The camera, car batteries, electronics and solar panels were dismantled yesterday, and all of the equipment will be carried to another site (on Big Springs Creek) and reassembled. Look for a live feed with spawning Chinook salmon by sometime on the afternoon of next Tuesday, October 11 (barring technical hurdles!)

  28. I’m so excited to see that SalmonCam is back! No fish at the moment (about 9:40 AM Pacific). Are the fish more active at a particular time of day, is it random, or is there a chance that we’ll get lucky and have a redd to watch near the camera?

  29. The new site is much prettier — the rocks and plants are really beautiful. However, I have only seen one fish and I check it fairly often — have actually become a salmon watching addict (and have shared this addiction with many of my friends). I’ll keep watching…

    1. The camera is now in a faster-flowing part of the system, and I have set it upstream of some suitably sized spawning gravels. There are Chinook spawning upstream and downstream of the camera location, but outside of the 100 meter radius of the camera’s cable. I saw one large male fish swim by yesterday afternoon. I will check the stream for redds and move the camera when a female starts to build within range.

  30. The water appears quite murky today compared to the past few days. Did it rain recently?

  31. There’s an adult female building a redd right in front of the camera! How cool! 🙂 10/14/16. I better get back to work.

  32. Saw a pair of large salmon working the area this morning, one repeatedly trying to rearrange the gravel perhaps to lay eggs. When I checked back this afternoon, there were some smaller rainbow trout.

    1. Early this morning while it was still fairly dark, but you could make out shapes, a large salmon was circling in the area of the camera.

  33. I observed a couple of juvenile Coho salmon (based on parr marks) passing through today. They seem a bit larger than when the camera was set up in the original location. I had been regularly observing one large salmon with a white scar above the right eye but not today… I am assuming that was the female of the nesting pair from earlier this week who stayed behind to watch over the nesting site.

  34. At 9:31 am on 10/22/16 a very large salmon entered and good views of it’s bottom, fins, gills and body as the sand was stirred up all around it! Wow! I was drawing and making notes of color planning further painting and enjoying the freeze frame of abstraction layer of color changes.

  35. Well, it looks like Chinook spawning activity is winding down. I did a walking tour of the most active spawning sites on the ranch today, and saw many redds (but not as many as in recent past years) and a few mostly lone females grimly defending their nest sites, and even fewer male consorts. The count of adults entering the Shasta was about 2500 as of October 10, so it looks like only about half of the recent average returns made it back to spawn. I will leave the camera active in case there are stragglers, and also for the observation of any resident rainbow trout or juvenile salmon that might appear on screen. It is growing rapidly cooler in the valley and it wont be too much longer until I have to shut the system down for the winter (some of the electronic components are intolerant of freezing.) Thanks to everyone for watching, supporting salmon conservation and restoration, and perhaps wasting a little bit of your daily productivity while viewing the fish live on the salmon cam!

    1. Thank you for sharing the experience with us. Hope it returns next year! 🙂

  36. Enjoyed looking for fish during the day and it was a very relaxing viewing at the end of the day.
    Will look for you next year.
    Thank you.