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The Fascinating Life Cycle of King Salmon: From Eggs to Spawning

May 02, 2023

The Fascinating Life Cycle of King Salmon: From Eggs to Spawning

King Salmon Life Cycle Infographic

King salmon, also known as Chinook salmon, are among the most prized fish in the world, both for their delicious flavor and their impressive size. But before they become a trophy catch, these fish go through a remarkable life cycle that spans several years and thousands of miles. In this post, we'll explore the different stages of the king salmon life cycle and learn more about these fascinating fish.

Stage 1: Eggs

The life of a king salmon begins when a female lays her eggs in a gravel bed in a freshwater stream or river. The eggs, which are about the size of a pea, will incubate for several weeks before hatching into tiny fry. During this time, the female will guard the nest and fan water over the eggs to keep them oxygenated.

Stage 2: Fry

Once the eggs hatch, the king salmon enter the fry stage. At this point, they are about the size of a pencil lead and have a yolk sac attached to their bellies that provides them with nutrients. The fry will stay in the gravel bed for a few more days before they venture out into the open water to begin feeding on plankton and other small organisms.

Stage 3: Smolt

After a few months, the king salmon will have grown to about 6-8 inches in length and will begin to develop their distinctive silver scales. This marks the beginning of the smolt stage, during which the fish will begin to migrate downstream towards the ocean. This journey can take several weeks, and the smolt must navigate through rapids, waterfalls, and other obstacles to reach their destination.

Stage 4: Adult

Once the king salmon reach the ocean, they will spend the next few years feeding and growing. During this time, they can travel thousands of miles and reach weights of over 100 pounds. When they are ready to spawn, the fish will begin their journey back upstream to the same freshwater streams where they were born.

Stage 5: Spawning

The final stage of the king salmon life cycle is spawning. When the fish reach their breeding grounds, the males will develop hooked jaws and a bright red coloration, while the females will develop a swollen belly full of eggs. The fish will then mate and lay their eggs in the same gravel bed where they were born, completing the life cycle.


Q: How long does the king salmon life cycle take?

A: The king salmon life cycle can take anywhere from 2-7 years, depending on the individual fish and its environment.

Q: What is the biggest king salmon ever caught?

A: The biggest king salmon ever caught weighed over 97 pounds and was caught in the Kenai River in Alaska.

Q: Where can I go to see king salmon spawning?

A: There are many rivers and streams throughout Alaska, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest where you can see king salmon spawning. Some popular locations include the Kenai River in Alaska and the Columbia River in Washington.


The king salmon life cycle is a remarkable journey that takes these fish from their birthplace in a freshwater stream to the open ocean and back. It is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of these incredible creatures, and a reminder of the importance of preserving their habitats and ensuring their continued survival. Whether you're an avid angler or simply appreciate the beauty of nature, the king salmon is a species worth celebrating and protecting for generations to come.

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