Some Facts about Salmon Spawning Season

By Andy Whitcomb

Oct 06, 2020

Salmon spawning occurs at various times. Here are some facts about those seasons. 

Salmon are tremendously popular commercial and sport fish. They are strong fighters; some species can grow to 50 pounds or more. And bears aren’t the only creatures that enjoy salmon fillets. To increase the chances of catching them, we need to answer the question, when do salmon spawn? Salmon spawning season varies depending on the region and species of salmon.

For example, the timing of Chinook salmon spawning and spawning King salmon is the same because those two names happen to be for the same fish, species Oncorhynchus tshawytscha. Salmon spawning behavior for this fish which is native to the Pacific coast but introduced elsewhere, mainly occurs in spring and fall.

Another native to the Pacific coast, the Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) also has been introduced to the Great Lakes. According to the Michigan DNR, Coho, which average about 5 pounds, can be caught in Lake Michigan “at any time” but spawning Coho salmon activity occurs September through November.

When do other salmon spawn? Sockeye salmon spawn in June and July in Alaska, whereas kokanee, the landlocked version of sockeye, spawn in the fall. Chum salmon can spawn as early as March or “late summer,” but with high water flows, the heaviest concentrations usually are early in winter. Pink salmon spawn August to October.

With the salmon lifecycle, Pacific salmon species die after spawning, whereas Atlantic salmon may survive for another salmon spawning season. The tiny fish hatch and usually stay in the river for a year before migrating to the ocean or a large lake if transplanted. Chum and Pink salmon fry however, leave freshwater soon after hatching. Most salmon remain in the ocean or large lakes until they mature after about 2 or3 years. Then, their colors change as they make their way upstream to spawn and continue the cycle.

All creatures in the region soon learn and take advantage of the timing of salmon spawning season in the streams and rivers. Oddly, it is reported that salmon do not eat once they have entered freshwater streams to spawn, however through the high concentration, many salmon still hit various lures such as flies, spinners, spoons, and plugs, possibly out of instinct.

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.