When do Salmon Spawn: Spawning Times for All Species

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What Time of Year Do Salmon Spawn? There are summer and winter salmon spawning seasons depending on where you’re fishing. Salmon are anadromous fish, so they spend several years of their life growing and maturing in the sea and eventually return to where they were born to complete the spawning process.

Pacific Salmon Spawning Seasons

Pacific salmon, found primarily on the western coast of North America, are capable of traveling hundreds of miles during the spawning season. Generally, the spawning season lasts a couple of months and it’s an extremely exhausting process for these fish.

Coho Salmon

Coho salmon are some of the most popular salmon in the world. Also known as silver salmon, these fish generally spend around two to four years growing and maturing in the ocean before they even begin the spawning process.

Coho salmon generally spawn in the fall and early winter. Southern populations of coho salmon in California or Oregon will spawn in the early winter, and those located in northern British Columbia and Alaska will start spawning sometime in September and October.

When Coho return to their birthplaces to spawn, they’ll spend several weeks digging Redds, laying eggs, and protect them. As soon as the females have laid all of their eggs and males drop their sperm, they become what many anglers call “spawned out.” This means they’re exhausted and ready to die. All coho salmon die when they’re finished spawning.

King Salmon/Chinook Salmon

spawning king salmon
Spawning king salmon on a gravel bed

Chinook salmon spawn when they’re three or four years old. Depending on where in the Pacific they’re living, they’ll spawn in the summer or the early fall.

King Salmon in Oregon and Washington will spawn in late June and July. Alaskan and British Columbian king salmon will spawn in August and September.

King salmon are the largest of the pacific salmon species. They can grow upwards of five feet long and over 130 pounds. Generally, however, they’re around three feet long and weigh 30 pounds.

There is even a king salmon spawn that happens every year in Idaho. These fish have to travel upwards of 800 miles from the coast of British Columbia to the Salmon River in Idaho to spawn and die.

Like other salmon species, king salmon will swim up freshwater rivers and streams to their original birthplace. Once they’ve found their spawning grounds, they’ll dig their Redds, females will lay their eggs and males will fertilize them with their sperm.

Once the spawning process is complete, they stay in the freshwater rivers and streams and eventually die.

See also: When Do Kokanee Salmon Spawn?

Sockeye Salmon

Spawning sockeye salmon in their red coloring are an awesome sight

Sockeye salmon are one of the more interesting species of salmon in the world. The traditional saltwater specie of sockeye follows many of the same patterns as other Pacific salmon.

Sockeye salmon will spawn somewhere in the summer and the fall. Like all of their relatives, they return to where they were born to complete the process of spawning. Once the spawning is complete, they die from the exhaustion they undergo when they spawn.

Sea-run sockeye salmon will spend upwards of 1 to 3 years in freshwater as juvenile fish before they return to saltwater to mature. They’ll fully mature by the time they’re four or five and return to the freshwater to spawn around this time.

Kokanee salmon, the freshwater version of Sockeye salmon, spend their entire life in the freshwater and are able to fully survive in those conditions.

These fish are generally smaller than coho and king salmon and only grow to around 15 pounds and 2 feet long.

Pink Salmon

Pink salmon return to freshwater rivers to spawn somewhere between June and October. As soon as they’re born, they head to the sea. They’ll spend upwards of 18 months at sea maturing and preparing for the spawn.

When ready, female salmon will swim up the freshwater river or stream where she was born and choose a spot along the gravel bottom of a riverbed to make her spawning location. Most pink salmon will not travel more than 40 miles to spawn.

When she reaches the ideal location, she’ll create various holes in the bottom of the riverbed to lay her eggs. Once she’s deposited eggs, male salmon will fertilize them and then move on to find other eggs to fertilize.

The female pink salmon will eventually die protecting her eggs. Males will also die after they’ve fertilized as many salmon eggs as possible.

Pink salmon are some of the smallest of the Pacific salmon species. They’ll only grow to be a few pounds when fully grown. Plus, they have the shortest life span of all salmon species across North America. They only live two years before they die. As a result, the spawning process is extremely quick for pink salmon.

There are odd and even year populations of these fish. They are not related to each other at all due to those short life spans.

Chum Salmon

Chum salmon are a large species that offer a good fight

When chum salmon are born, they almost immediately start heading toward the ocean. Once here, they’ll stay for anywhere between three and six years maturing. The spawning season begins somewhere in late-summer and lasts all the way through March. Since the chum salmon population is so high, the spawning season lasts longer than many other types of Pacific salmon species.

They’ll travel no more than 60 miles to spawn. Like all other Pacific salmon, the females will locate a few spots in the river to lay her eggs. The males will do their best to fertilize as many sets of eggs as possible while they’re still alive. The females will lay all of her eggs and eventually die while she is protecting them.

Chum salmon are the second largest species of Pacific salmon. They are able to grow up to nearly 4 feet long and 30 pounds. They are able to live upwards of six years before they pass away after the spawn.

See also: The Largest Salmon Ever Caught: IGFA records for all types

Atlantic Salmon Spawning Season

Atlantic salmon spawn in the fall each year. They’ll lay their eggs and the eggs will grow over the winter. When they hatch, they spend upwards of 2 years in freshwater growing and maturing. After those two years, they’ll return to the ocean and continue to become sexually mature.

After a couple of years in the ocean, they’ll return to the freshwater river or stream where they were born and lay their eggs. The male salmon will fertilize as many eggs as possible during the spawning process.

Atlantic salmon are usually 28-30 inches long and can grow upwards of 12 pounds.

These are highly protected fish due to the minimization of their habitats. The fishing season for Atlantic Salmon is very short and anglers are put under high restrictions on when and how many fish they can take.

What Conditions Trigger Salmon Spawning?

Salmon spawning runs are triggered by a combination of water temperature and flow

Salmon spawning behavior is one of the most unique reproduction processes in the entire world. Their spawning habits are unlike almost every other animal on earth.

Water Temperature

Generally, salmon need somewhere between 40 and 60-degree water to lay their eggs. This water temperature is comfortable for them. Since the process is so exhausting, they are very particular about the conditions that they’re willing to spawn.

These water temperatures are generally found somewhere in the late fall and early winter, but the further north that these fish live, the earlier the conditions will become ideal.

If the water temperatures are higher than 40-60 degrees, they’ll burn necessary fat at a far faster rate than what is healthy.

Oxygen Levels

Spawning salmon need highly oxygenated water for them to spawn. The cooler the water, the more dissolved oxygen. Also, gravel and sediment help increase the amount of oxygen that is dissolved. That’s why so many salmon rivers have gravel bottoms. It’s a necessary feature for these salmon to properly complete the salmon process.

Flow Levels

Salmon don’t need insanely fast flow levels to spawn. Generally, water that’s somewhere between 800-1200 CFS is perfect for them to complete the spawn. This is another reason why salmon spawn in the late summer and winter. The water conditions are lower and flows are less aggressive than they would be in the spring and early summer.

Where Do Salmon Spawn?

Salmon runs can feature hundreds of thousands of fish

Salmon will generally complete the spawning process several miles up freshwater rivers and streams that are connected to oceans and seas. Their natural instincts cause them to travel back to their original spawning grounds.

Once they reach their original spawning grounds, they’ll try their best to find gravel bars with more slack water. The slack water allows them to easily dig into the gravel and lay their eggs. Female salmon will find several spots in one location to complete this process. These numerous egg deposits are what are known as Redds. The red tint under the surface of the water is all of the eggs on the bottom.

Why Do Salmon Return to Their Birthplace to Spawn?

The general answer as to why salmon return to their birthplace is that their instincts tell them that it is a good and safe place to spawn. Even if the area has changed over the 1 to 4 years they’ve been at sea, they’ll still do their absolute best to get to their original spawning grounds.

How Do Salmon Spawn?

Salmon spawn in a unique way. Female salmon will find a suitable part of a river with gravel and sediment. Once they locate the ideal spot, the females will thrash around on their side to dig a hole into the river’s bottom. This hole ensures that their eggs will be all in one place once they’re laid.

Once the eggs are laid, male salmon will compete to be able to fertilize the eggs. They’ll release sperm on the eggs and then do their best to find another female to assist in spawning.

How Many Eggs Do Salmon Lay?

Depending on the species of salmon, they’ll lay somewhere between 1,500 and 10,000 eggs. While only 10-30 percent of these salmon will survive, the high number of eggs allows the populations to sustain themselves.

Do All Salmon Die After Spawning?

dead salmon after spawning

Most salmon species die after they spawn. Atlantic salmon are the only salmon species that have the possibility of surviving and completing the spawning process a second time. Since it’s such an exhausting process, it causes most salmon to die.

Can Salmon Spawn in Saltwater?

Yes, salmon are able to spawn in saltwater, but it’s not common. Pink salmon are the only species that are known to spawn in saltwater. This is due to their short 2-year life span. It’s easier for them to spawn in the saltwater instead of having to go all the way to their original birthplace.

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Danny Mooers is a passionate fly fishing and angling writer from Arizona. Danny loves sharing his passion for fly fishing for trout and other species through his work for Tackle Village.
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