Lifecycle Stages of Wild Pacific Salmon

The wild Alaska salmon lifecycle embodies the truly amazing spectacle of nature and its  uniquely impressive adaptations. While salmon fishing charters in Ketchikan, Alaska offer an  unparalleled opportunity to catch wild salmon, there’s also a huge education during trips on  how the Alaska Salmon lifecycle effects the entire ecosystem. Ketchikan stands  alone being known as , “The Salmon Capital of The World”. To this degree visitors fishing in the  waters surrounding Ketchikan can become familiar with all the salmon species and their  triumphant journey through life.  

Identifying 5 Species Wild Pacific Salmon  

To start, Alaska’s five different species of wild Pacific Salmon are one to become familiar with, by  simply remembering a tried and true method. The easiest way to become acquainted with the  different species of Alaska salmon is to hold up your hand and extend each of your fingers.  Then by jingling off a simply rhyme it becomes distinctly illustrated which salmon species are  recognized in Alaskan water and how to identify them.  

Holding you thumb out we recognize the Chum salmon as thumb rhymes with chum! Then holding your  index finger out and pointing to your eye, we can identify the Sockeye salmon as eye rhymes  with Sockeye. While the two previous have similarly catchy rhymes we now come to the middle  finger. Well the middle finger is the largest of any digit on one’s hand so what species of  Salmon can we attribute this to? The might King Salmon is the largest of all of Alaska’s salmon,  so it reigns supreme when correlating the largest finger with the largest salmon species. Now  to the ring finger, and since there isn’t a gold salmon we move to the other colors of ring, silver.  The fourth species of wild Pacific salmon is the Silver salmon. Now for the final of the five  species of salmon we get to the pinky finger. Easy enough to remember as the pink y finger  identifies the Pink salmon.  

Salmon Fishing Species Quiz  

Now that you’re equipped with knowing and understanding how to identify each species of  salmon you can be confident on  your Ketchikan salmon fishing excursion. While this can be slightly more complex as it relates  to the multiple stages of the salmons lifecycle we’ll move into how the body transitions during  each stage. Not to worry, your captain may give you a quiz on your Ketchikan salmon fishing  charter, but you’re empowered with the basics for now.  

Wild Alaskan Salmon Lifecycle Stages  

Stage 1. Fertilized Egg  

Alaska salmon begin their life in freshwater when their eggs are fertilized during the fall.  Depending on which species of salmon and the temperatures of the water dictate how long the  eggs incubate for in the gravel and rocks of rivers, streams and lakes. Inside the egg the  salmon begins to develop eyes, a spine and tail.  

Stage 2. Alevin 

Once these changes have undergone and complete the egg will hatch and it transitions to the  next lifecycle stage called the Alevin.  Identifying this stage by an orange yolk sac attached to the body, it remains in the rocks and  gravel for protection and continues to get nutrients from the yolk sac. 

Stage 3. Fry  

As it depletes the nutrients in the yolk sac it continues to grow until it has developed a mouth  and shapes on the body. Now the salmon is ready to get mobile and start searching for food as  it leaves the safety of the gravel beds. This stage is called the fry stage. During the fry stage salmon are still threatened in  large part because of their lack of size and mobility. Based on this ever present danger most  salmon develop parr marks. Parr marks marks run along each side of the body and act as  camouflage to evade detection from predators. In this stage they begin eating food such as  insect larvae and plankton in generally slower moving waters. Dependent on the species of salmon will determine how long each fry remains in freshwater.  Silver salmon and sockeye salmon are known to stay in the freshwater for up to two years.  King, Pink and Chum salmon generally stay for a shorter period of time, up to one year.  

Stage 4. Smolt  

While each characteristic of the fry stage is unique to each species of wild Pacific salmon, this  development leads into the next stage of their lifecycle, the Smolt stage. Salmon fry preparing to go out to sea on their  largest journey to this point lose their parr marks that acted as camouflage in the rivers and  streams. Smolt vary by size dependent on species but spend sometime in the brackish water  where the sea meets the mouths of freshwaters streams, rivers and lakes. Salmon grow rapidly  during the smolt stage as they begin to transition into the ocean waters, preparing to embark of  one of the worlds greatest open ocean migrations!  

Stage 5. Adult: Open Ocean  

Reaching the adult stage of life the wild Pacific salmon set out on truly wild spectacle. A  phenomena rarely paralleled in the natural world for the need to grow, feed, and return to  reproduce. The five different species of wild Pacific salmon will remain in the ocean feeding  great distances from where they hatched in their “home streams.” The time spent in the ocean  feeding depends solely on the species of salmon. These fish are referred to as “feeder” salmon  and provide the highest quality of meat. Private salmon fishing charters in Ketchikan run to the  richest grounds to catch all five species during this stage of their lives and as they began to  return to spawn.  

Stage 6. Spawning  

All five species of wild Pacific salmon spend years in the open ocean feeding and the time  spent in the ocean feeding depends on each species of salmon. King salmon stay in the  saltwater the longest of all species, spending up to six years, feeding on herring, squid, krill,  and other small bait fish. Upon returning to freshwater from the sea, salmon undergo significant  physical changes. Kings, Sockeye, and Silver develop a deep red coloration, but in Southeast 

Alaska spawning king salmon develop a dark brown/ blackish coloration. Chum salmon look  quite vibrant when spawning as they develop multicolored calico bands resembling a tiger or  zebra along each side of the body. Males of all species develop a pronounced hook in the jaw,  called “kypes.” Male pink salmon and sockeye salmon develop pronounced humps on their  backs. Resulting pink salmon being referred to as “humpys.” 

Can you believe that after an incredible open ocean journey that each  species of pacific salmon return to the stream or lake in which they were born? These returning  salmon are referred to as “spawners.” Each species enters at a different time of the year,  which makes it critical to know the runs and your fishing charter months to pick the best times to intercept the multiple species available. Ask your captain prior to booking a salmon fishing  charter excursion. Kings enter first from May-Mid July, followed by sockeye, pinks, chums and  lastly silvers. Timing of the runs vary season by season but check out the Ketchikan Salmon  Fishing Article for best times for each species.  

Once the salmon has reached its spawning grounds, the female and male pair up. While the  female digs a bed in the gravel to deposit her eggs and the male fertilizes them. After spawning  all species of wild Pacific salmon die, completing their lifecycle.  

Stage 7. Post-spawn  

While all wild Pacific die after they spawn its worth admiring all the the various stages of life.  Evading predators from an early stage of life all the way through the final stage is quite the task  to undergo. Alaskan salmon have to endure a laundry list of predators hunting them, including, Orcas, Seals, Eagles and Bears. I guess it’s why this phenomena is  such an enchanting migration and lifecycle of nature. Understanding the various stages of the  multiple Pacific salmon species will help ensure your best success when salmon fishing in  Ketchikan. Ask your captain when booking what species are available at the different times of  summer as we keep a constant pulse on each summers salmon runs. 

Wild Alaskan Salmon Species  

King Salmon  

Alaska king salmon command a reputable size and fighting ability that’s unmatched in salmon  Alaskan waters. King salmon fishing excursions in Ketchikan showcase the bright “Chrome”  scales of an ocean going Chinook or king salmon, not to mention their vibrant orange meat  loaded with omega-3. With their innate ability to take long drag peeling runs and acrobatic  displays of jumping it’s no wonder these species of salmon garner so much attention. The best  times to catch king salmon in Ketchikan are mid-May though mid-July 

Pink Salmon  

Pink salmon return to spawn in the freshwater streams as two-year-old fish. Making Pink  salmon one of the shortest of all the species in its time spent in the open ocean feeding to  making the journey back to spawn. July and August are the peak months for Salmon fishing  charters in Ketchikan for clients looking to load up on Pink salmon. Easily referred to as a  money fish by commercial and charter fisherman alike. When they begin to pour into the  surrounding waters off Ketchikan heading to the various streams, rivers and lakes, they come  in the millions. Book a salmon fishing excursions during these month to see a truly wild side of  these volumous salmon runs. 

Silver Salmon  

Silver salmon or Coho salmon return to spawn after sixteen to eighteen months in the open  ocean feeding. The best times to book a Ketchikan salmon fishing charter for Silver salmon are  from mid-July through September. Easily a top rated salmon species to catch for their high  quality meat and voracious feeding bites. When a good Silver salmon bite is happening it can  be an all out blitz on all of your trolling lines. This species alone is favored by locals and visitors  to Ketchikan for the above mention reasons.  

Sockeye Salmon  

While Sockeye salmon are revered for their bright red meat which gives them the nickname  “Reds”, their seldom caught trolling for salmon. This is because their diet consists mainly of  Krill and the lures often used to target the other species of salmon rarely mimic this  presentation. With that being said the best times to catch Sockeye salmon in Ketchikan  coincide with the Silver salmon runs during the months from July through September.  Oftentimes when catching Silver salmon you’ll put one in the net that resembles the trademark  features of a Sockeye salmon and you know you’ve added a great variety to the salmon  harvest for that day.  

Chum Salmon  

Chum salmon or “Dog salmon” have a bright red meat but are often less desirable then the  other species like king, silver, and sockeye. Although they lack the reputation for meat quality they put up an amazing fight! Testing ones tackle to withstand the brut strength these fish display when hooked while trolling for salmon. The best times to fish for Chum salmon in  Ketchikan are late June through September.