Issaquah Salmon Hatchery celebrates first Salmon on Sunset event

Visitors can see live salmon spawning on September 17 from 12-6 p.m.

The Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery (FISH) will host their first annual Salmon on Sunset celebration, which will highlight live salmon spawning. On September 17 from 12-6 p.m., attendees will be able to see the salmon up close as they travel to the Issaquah hatchery.

According to Robin Kelley, Executive Director of FISH, the board decided they wanted to host an annual event at the hatchery. While the biggest draw at the hatchery is when the adult salmon return home, Kelley brought up how FISH didn’t want to compete with the Salmon Days festival, which both occur around the same time.

“Salmon on Sunset is intended to be purely a welcome home for the salmon, so there won’t be all the additional attractions that Salmon Days has,” said Kelley, who mentioned how the event will be lowkey and will take place entirely on the hatchery grounds.

While the hatchery was closed for over two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re excited to welcome visitors back on the property.

“This is really a celebration for us as well,” said Kelley. “It’s really melancholy and wonderful that we have the opportunity to do what we do and what we’re here for.”

In addition to viewing live salmon spawning, those who attend Salmon on Sunset can tune into Bluegrass and Americana, with live music from Runaway Train and Hallstrom. A beer garden and food trucks will also be available, although attendees are welcome to bring picnic baskets.

Activities such as a rubber duck derby will take place, as well as a creation station that will host three separate art projects. Trek Bicycle will also have a technician present to look at people’s bikes for safety checks, and to allow individuals to test ride an e-bike.

Kelley said she hopes that 3,000-5,000 people attend Salmon on Sunset, but since it’s the first time hosting the event, she doesn’t know for certain.

“We know that hundreds of people come on the weekends to see the salmon now,” said Kelley, who added that the excitement and activities will reel more visitors in.

Salmon on Sunset will take place regardless of weather conditions, and while inclement weather– such as overcast and rain– could deter some visitors from attending, the salmon actually prefer it.

“The water is warmer than it usually is because of the climate change issues, and so we’ve had so much hot, dry weather. The stream is warmer than it usually is and salmon really like cold, clear water,” said Kelley.

At the start of this spawning season, FISH saw the first few salmon, but due to the heat, it wasn’t a big rush.

“Once we had a little bit of rain and it was overcast and it got colder at night, then we saw the push of them coming from the lake and up the creek, so it made a big difference for them,” said Kelley.

While hot weather is impacting the rush of salmon, previous climate events, such as the 2020 floods, caused tremendous damage to the native plant garden at the hatchery. The garden consists of plants native to the PNW, which FISH encourages people to plant in their yards since they don’t require much fertilizer or irrigation, thus being more environmentally friendly.

“Even plants that are accustomed to tolerating a lot of things, that was just more than they’re able to tolerate so it took some special attention to be able to get that whipped back into shape,” said Kelley, who is excited to share the renovated native plant garden with visitors.

For those interested in taking a piece of Salmon on Sunset home with them, the hatchery opened FISHop! on the weekend of September 10, which offers salmon-centric goodies.

“To be able to invite extra people to witness what we get to see everyday is really exciting for us, because when we see the looks on their faces, then it just brings it all home how special it is,” said Kelley.