Friday, October 21, 2011

Snorkel with the Salmon

This adventure was completely inspired by an episode of the Rick Mercer Report, when Rick went snorkeling with salmon near Campbell River.  A great episode, worth checking out.  As I was watching it, I instantly thought of the Nanaimo River and the salmon that return there every year to spawn.  We swim in the river all summer so why not mid Sept? My partner in adventure spent a few days scouting the best location.  We had to be able to snorkel and still see the salmon "running" underneath us.  Once he determined the best spot, we then had to wait for the first salmon of the season to appear.  Pretty sure I just about drove off the bridge when I saw the telltale sign, a splash in the Nanaimo River, while driving across the Cedar bridge.  It was time to gear up in our dry suits and head to the river.

Being it was mid Sept, I was not sure the kids would be able to handle the frigid river water for very long.  Joel and I both have dry suits, for when we surf, but nothing has been purchased for the little ones.  I was counting on them being occupied with rocks and wading into the river.  I was pleasantly surprised when Ben (6) ended up snorkeling for about half an hour.  He said he never saw a salmon but had fun. (Ben pictured snorkeling)

The Nanaimo River is home to chum, coho, and Chinook salmon. The Nanaimo River hatchery has successfully reintroduced pinks back to the river as a food source for the salmon.  There are three genetically distinct stocks of Chinook in the Nanaimo River.  They run in spring, summer and fall.  I am not completely sure whether we were snorkeling with the Chinook or one of the other species of salmon.  First up was Joel.  Armed with an underwater camera, he snorkeled into the middle of the pool.  From shore I could see the salmon move away from him, more so the splashes.  They  always seemed to keep a safe distance away.  Joel did manage to get a few cool underwater shots. 

A crayfish
Salmon that has reached the end of its life

Joel reported a school of salmon swimming off in the distance. He could hear their splashes all around him. (Salmon splashing around Joel as he snorkeled)

Next up was yours truly.  I have never really snorkeled before and to tell you the truth, I was a bit concerned with actually seeing a salmon swim under me.  Why?  I haven't a clue.  I blame it on watching too many creepy movies as a child.  Whatever it is, I was staying close to shore.  It was comforting to be able to see the rocky river bottom.  Like Ben before me, I had no salmon sightings, and I'm OK with that.  What I took away from this adventure was a chance to try something new.  As I mentioned earlier, we swim regularly in the Nanaimo River during the summer.  It is a river that offers the community a place to their own.  Everyone in Cedar, and the greater Nanaimo area, all have their perfect swimming spot on the river.  Families love the bridge and flat rock because it offers a safe and accessible place to hang out on those hot summer day.  Teenagers and those young at heart are often seen swinging from the bridge rope and even jumping off the bridge. (I am not recommending that).  Further up river, deep hole gives river swimmers the chance to jump off the rocks and swim in a deep pool, hence the name.  (This is where we snorkeled).  There are even more "favorite" spots for those willing to drive a bit.  Nanaimo River Road has countless spots for the adventure seeking water lover.  Next time you are wanting to beat the summer heat, think of the Nanaimo River.  Want to watch the annual salmon run up close, think of the Nanaimo River.  Want to experience something unique and snorkel with the salmon, think of the Nanaimo River.  (For a real adventure and a chance to actually snorkel with thousands of salmon, check out Destiny River Adventures in Campbell River.)

The gear we used

Not much gear was required for snorkeling with salmon.  Between the four of us, (two adults, two children), we shared a boogie board, one snorkel and one mask, the good old Aqua Lung.  Joel and I wore our dry suits with Keen sandals.  The children were wearing their bathing suits, pfd's, and sandals.  We brought four towels, some snacks, and two cameras.  We were fortunate to enjoy a sunny September day, around 15C.


  1. I love the idea. just snorkeled a short section this weekend. My wife dove a river in NZ last yr. Fantastic.
    We are new to the area. Still amazed by everything.


    1. Glad to hear someone else enjoyed it as much as me! Welcome to Vancouver Island, happy exploring!

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  3. Great write up! Keep snorkeling, the salmon are a very special part of BC's history and environment. A very famous Canadian fisherman and environmentalist, Rodderick Haig Brown, was one of the first to snorkel with salmon and realized it's value to fisheries biologists all over the world.
    I swim with the salmon down here in WA. and host a FB group dedicated to river snorkeling, come on over sometime.

    Keep swimming!

    1. Thanks! Thought I replied to you already on here... I did catch up with you on Facebook and am loving your posts!

  4. I just moved to Nanaimo and can't wait to try snorkeling the river for salmon viewing mid-Sept. Can you recommend swimming spots on the river? I see people parked in certain sections, but have yet to have a local show me their favourite spots... estimated GPS coordinates would be helpful! Thanks

    1. I can certainly point you to the spots we have been to. There are many, many spots on the Nanaimo River to explore so keep at it. (sorry, do not have gps co-ords)
      We snorkel at 3 spots: Deep Hole, Cedar Bridge, and Flat Rock. All within Cedar.
      Deep Hole is accessed off of Cedar Road at Boswell Rd. Crazy, bumpy gravel road...keep going and you will see where people park. You can jump in from rocks (trail leading left)or take trail right where you can cut across the river (knee deep) and onto an island. You will see why it is called Deep Hole.
      Cedar Bridge is a popular spot but you will have it all to yourself come Sept. Lots of salmon there.
      Flat Rock, After Cedar Bridge (coming from Nanaimo) turn left on Raines Road. Flat Rock, just that, will be on your left and again, is popular but not in Sept.
      To explore the river and scout out snorkel areas, try floating down from Cassidy Bridge (on hwy) to Cedar bridge. Park at Nanaimo River Regional Park on Thatcher Rd. Great float and there would be great salmon viewing areas along the way but hard to access due to private land.
      Up river, head on Nanaimo Lake Rd and turn left at River Terrace. There is a public access trail between houses and when you get to river follow trail up river for some amazing swimming spots! We have not snorkeled for salmon there but they are probably there!
      If you see cars parked along Nanaimo River Road, park and follow the trail. People park there for a reason. We have not gone up past River Terrace but do know of many spots. Can't explore them all at once!

      Enjoy, let me know how it turns out!

      ps...if you need further directions...let me know. ENJOY!