life cycle of sockeye salmon

When they’re ready to spawn they’ll start binging on food

Life Cycle of Sockeye Salmon

Young Sockeye Salmon spend anywhere from 1 to 3 years living in freshwater rivers and lakes before heading to the river estuaries and then on to the sea.


Once in the ocean Sockeye will spend as many as 4 years in the sea or it can be as little as 1 year. The abundance of food is believed to have an impact on the duration they spend in the ocean.


When they’re ready to spawn they’ll start binging on food. This usually starts 3 months before spawning depending on which part of their distribution they’re located. The binging may begin as early as late spring or well into summer, and incredibly their body weight will increase by as much as 80%.

Sockeye and Kokanee Spawning Differences

The spawning period for Sockeye Salmon is longer than for many Pacific Salmon species. Ocean going Sockeye start spawning as early as July and continue through to December.


Lake bound, or land locked, Kokanee Salmon have a much greater range for their spawning period starting as early as August and going right through to February.

Winter Egg Hatching

Sockeye Salmon eggs hatch in the winter instead of waiting for the spring like other Pacific Salmon species.


Once the alevin (the newly spawned salmon) have hatched, they stay in the redd (nest), for as long as their yolk sac can last, hiding behind small rocks.


Once their yolk sac has been consumed, they head off to large pools or lakes for up to 3 years while they grow in size and strength.

When they’re ready to enter the ocean, they enter the smelt stage before heading into the ocean, which is usually in the spring.


As smolt, they weigh only a few ounces, which is a rather small size for several years of growth. And they won’t spawn until they reach around 4lbs some 3 years later.

Physical Spawning Changes

They’re silver colored from head to tail as young fry and smelt, and later while they’re in the ocean. They don’t undergo physical changes until they’re ready to mate.

  • The male undergo more changes than the females. The male grows a hump, its snout becomes hooked, its teeth grow longer and sharp and their entire body, except their head changes to a deep crimson red.
  • The female also changes color but doesn’t develop the hump or bent snout.

Death After Spawning

All Sockeye die after they’ve spawned. This includes the freshwater Kokanee Salmon.