By Todd Wels

Triplicate staff writer

They swim relentlessly upstream, battered by the constant current. They leap from swirling pools up flowing waterfalls.

In one of natures ironies, by their struggle to propagate their species, they themselves will die.

They are the chinook salmon that call the Smith River and the Pacific Ocean home, and they made their return to Del Norte County this week.

Officials at the Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery said the salmon began appearing in a trap and pools at the hatchery Wednesday night, and arrived in full force Thursday morning.

Today has been a pretty good day, said Fish Culturist Andy Van Scoyk, after he and fellow fish culturist Rick Abbey removed more than 20 salmon from a trap at the hatchery.

The trap is set up like a lobster trap, in that fish can swim through a swinging gate at the front, but cannot swim back out.

Its very basic, but very effective, Abbey said.

Van Scoyk and Abbey analyzed each fish, first to make sure that they were, in fact, spawned at the hatchery, and then separated them based upon gender, with male fish placed in one pond, and females in another.

Female fish were examined to determine whether their eggs had loosened enough to allow spawning to occur.

Those who were not quite ready to spawn were placed in a separate pond to allow their eggs to ripen.

Once a female is determined to be ready for spawning, she is placed in a pan and killed by a blow to the head. She is then slit open and allowed to bleed out, according to Van Scoyk.

An anesthetized male is then introduced into the equation, with workers squeezing the males sperm onto the exposed eggs, which are then harvested.

Van Scoyk said local weather played an important role in determining when this years salmon run would occur.

That just all depends on the rain, he said, noting that the rainy season arrived just a little bit late this year.

The fish are dependent on rising water levels to make their journey easier, as the fish are actually able to make better time in fast-running water, he added.