Little Larry Swims: High Tailin’ Salmon

Even swimming downstream can feel like you are swimming upstream

Ever hear the saying: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd?”  

In my case, and for all the salmon runs in these parts, the opposite is true. The odds are against us. On average, around 98% of us from Redfish Lake don’t survive the outmigration to the ocean to return to spawn in the river. 

That means I have just one job: To beat the odds. 

Why are the odds so tough? Think of the wild kingdom. It’s full of hungry animals, like birds and fish. I’m a wonderful snack to many of them. And then, a new challenge: our journey to the ocean has changed drastically since the 1930s.

What’s the slowdown?

Salmon evolved in a free-flowing river. We used to high-tail it—literally tail first!—out to the ocean in the flush of water and gravity, which carries the snowmelt all the way to the ocean. It was like sliding down a mountain slope, a rollicking ride on a rush of white water and waterfalls tugging you all the way. 

The 900 miles—backwards!—would speed by. In a week, it was over! But fast forward to my journey today, and the week-long free-ride now can take us as many as 40 days. 

So what’s the slowdown? Imagine a watery river highway that has turned into a sandtrap. That’s what it looks like for super-swimmers like me. We now have to navigate past many obstacles, including a series of dams on the lower Snake River. Dams slow the rush of water and turn swift-moving rapids into slow, shallow reservoirs, robbing the river of the strong current needed to carry salmon smolts like me out to sea. 

That slowdown in the river, which now looks like a series of reservoirs, invites trouble, deadly trouble. We become fish food to the many predators that surround us. We keep the food web humming, and without us, many species go hungry. But we salmon have our own work to do to survive. We want to return to the river as adults so we can spawn and reproduce. 

The hardest part of beating these odds is the dams. Imagine swimming along, weightless in the water, and suddenly you are diving off a towering cliff. The river below is a solid wall and it will knock you silly.

I don’t mean to burst your innertube, but the numbers say it all: Life as a salmon is no fun float down the river. Our journey is full of challenges and adventure. Remember the 10-kilometer marathon swim at the Olympics? That’s a distance sockeye salmon eat for breakfast. But we need a free-flowing river if we want to reach the finish line. Will you help me reach the finish line? Take the pledge

More about this series

Little Larry is a tiny fish on a big journey—swimming 900-miles from Idaho to the Pacific—tail first! His journey is a reminder that salmon could become extinct.

Follow his story and cheer him on as he swims to beat the odds!

Little Larry Swims: A Small Salmon on a Big Journey

Little Larry Swims: Every Salmon Has Superpowers

Little Larry Swims: High Tailin’ Salmon

Little Larry Swims: Salmon in the Trees?

Little Larry Swims: Some Like it Hot! Salmon Like it Cold.

Little Larry Swims: Whoop Whoop! Living the Anadromous Life

Who Was Lonesome Larry

Watch the video

Meet some kids who are speaking up for salmon.