Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
The historically rich area of Fish Creek is located near the furthest southeast end of San Juan Island. The “creek” opens to the north onto the protected waters of Griffin Bay only a short distance around the corner from turbulent Cattle Pass. The last time Fish Creek would have actually been a freshwater creek was most likely during the retreat of the continental glaciers of the last ice age when the sea level would have been lower and for a time this small valley would have been perched on a higher piece of land. The name of this inlet is obviously associated with its long narrow slot shape but also because in the past (prior to modern dredging) falling tides would sometimes form a narrow creek-like channel in its basin. The low depression of Fish Creek actually extends southeast across the peninsula toward the Cattle Point Interpretive Area (see article this website) and except for only about twenty feet of elevation the “toe” of Cape San Juan would be cut off from the main island.

For past millennia Fish Creek provided an excellent fishing and harvesting site for local Peoples. The presence of freshwater associated with the nearby lagoons would have provided an essential ingredient for extended summer camps. In 1841, Wilkes designated the adjacent passage, San Juan Channel, as a “Road;” a name reflective of its importance to boat traffic. Beginning in the 1800s and continuing nearly to the present day, the bountiful salmon runs of the Salmon Bank and other areas were heavily exploited. Located on the opposite side of the peninsula the open exposed waters that flowed across the Bank would have made anchoring and fish processing extremely difficult. Trawlers, seiners, and work boats used the relatively protected waters in and around Fish Creek as a safe haven between trips. For many years a long parade of purse seiners could be seen heading out of Fish Creek in the early morning hours and returning at dusk. Some years, Canadian and U. S. fisherman would operate on alternate days; returning fishermen unloading and processing their fish on site during their off days. Fish processing and living quarters sprang up and at times a rather rowdy community of sailors and fishermen could form. Now as then even larger boats frequently seek anchorage near Fish Creek and behind the protective hook of Cape San Juan to wait out unfavorable or dangerous conditions.

Today the shoreline of Fish Creek is lined with homes and docks of the private community of Cape San Juan. Modern recreational boats and private residences have replaced the cannery operations and fishing boat support buildings that once proliferated here. Unlike the commercial operations however, the wildlife has not disappeared. Adjacent to both sides of the opening of Fish Creek are rocky outcrops that provide excellent and necessary haul-out opportunities for marine mammals. They cruise and hunt the exposed but fish rich waters of Cattle Pass and then retreat to calmer Griffin Bay for rest and socializing. These small islets including prominent Harbor Rock are protected lands of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge. When passing these points be sure not to get too close or disturb the wildlife and under no circumstances should you land. The viewing from a distance is always better anyway, often allowing extended observation of resting animals or seabirds returning to their precariously perched nests.

From land or sea a visit to the Fish Creek area of San Juan Island offers a look beyond the present into the colorful past as well as providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Interesting loops and side trips are easily combined with other nearby publicly accessible trails, historic sites, and natural areas.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 10/15/2009


Fish Creek is located on Griffin Bay on the far southeastern end of San Juan Island. View portions of Fish Creek from the end of Cattle Point Road and the Third Lagoon Trail (see article this website). Fish Creek and adjacent ecologically important islets can also be seen while boating past them on Griffin Bay.


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