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Iron Gate Fish Hatchery
If you go
Drive south, 8.5 miles into California on Interstate 5. Exit at the Henley/Hornbrook turnoff, Exit 789. Turn left and continue east for 8 miles on Copco Road, following hatchery directional signs. When you reach the dam, the hatchery is on your right, across a white bridge over the Klamath River.
"The best time to see the fish running is in September," said Dan Espinosa, a 13-year veteran of the hatchery. "They start trickling in during August, so, that's when we get most of our visitors."
He said that by mid-September, "The salmon are really jumping pretty good."
Just below the dam, the hatchery's spawning area features a 300-foot fish ladder, but most people would rather watch the fish leap over a shorter ladder, located near the hatchery's picnic ground.
Espinoza said he is one of about eight seasonal employees at the hatchery. He retired from the grocery business in 1994, moved to the area and got a hatchery job that he thought would only last one summer.
"So far, it's turned into 13 years, and I really like it," he said. "It gives me plenty of time off to do the things I need to do at home. It's just perfect for me."
Espinosa and fellow seasonal employee Shawna Weisman were deciding what maintenance was needed outside of the hatchery's mini-museum building where visitors will find a history of the hatchery and dam, including photographs and even a gigantic stuffed salmon.
"We do a lot of things around here," said Weisman. "Sometimes I go home smelling like fish, but that's OK. It's a fun job."
The hatchery spawns chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout.
In the main building are 117 stacks of incubators with the ability to hold up to 120,000 eggs.
Once hatched, the fish are placed in one of eight, 400-foot long raceways, where they're taken care of until it's time for release into the Klamath River.
At the south end of the hatchery is a viewing platform where visitors can watch naturally spawning fish that missed the hatchery, when they took an early right turn into Bogus Creek.
Just above the dam is seven-mile-long Iron Gate Reservoir, offering three free campgrounds, boat rentals and boat launching facilities.
Espinosa said it also is well stocked with yellow perch, trout, bass and catfish.
Salmon and steelhead fisherman put their boats in below the dam, at the access ramp near the hatchery's spawning area.
Weisman warned any potential visitors to bring a hat and wear light clothing.
"It gets real hot here," said Weisman. "We're always hoping for some clouds, but we don't see too many."
With the late-morning temperature already climbing above 90 degrees, Espinosa couldn't resist a joke.
"It's really kind of cold today," he said.
Then he pointed to the heavily shaded picnic tables near the hatchery's fish ladder, not far from the cool river.
"That's where I would be if I didn't have to do this job," he said.
Bill Miller is a Southern Oregon freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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