Spawning salmon don't eat

AK Angler

New member
Hunger is not a factor. But don't take it from me.

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“For salmon, fat is where it’s at. When they’re living in the ocean, salmon eat a lot to store up plenty of fat. This fat is the fuel they need to get to their spawning grounds. Once salmon enter freshwater, they stop eating. So a salmon is a lot like a car that must make a long trip on one tank of gas. If anything delays the salmon, they may use up their fuel too soon — and not have enough to make it home.”
— U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Pacific Region

“Mature fish caught in a stream or river are unlikely to have any food in their digestive system. Spawning fish stop eating when they begin their upstream run, and may go up to 16 weeks without food before spawning and dying.”
— Great Canadian Rivers

“The salmon undergoes physiological changes as it travels. Before it enters fresh water, its digestive system shuts down. It may go without food for 12 months.”
— Parks Canada

“When the salmon begin their upriver spawning migration, they stop eating.
— Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

“When they’re living in the ocean, salmon eat and store up fat for their return to their spawning grounds. Once salmon enter freshwater they no longer feed.
— U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Pacific Southwest Region

“Salmon stop feeding as they enter fresh water. Their stomach is no longer needed and it begins to disintegrate internally -- leaving more room for the developing eggs and sperm.”
— ThinkSalmon.com

Salmon stop eating and drinking when they enter fresh water, because the lack of salt water is a shock to their systems. The change is such a shock, in fact, that internal organs begin failing in some salmon.”
— Discovery Channel

“Even before salmon begin their upstream migrations, they begin changing from bright silver to dark brown and finally to black. Their digestive tracts shrink to almost nothing and they stop eating. As a result, salmon are reluctant to bite once they move into their home streams. Still, many are taken during the spawning run, probably because they strike out of instinct rather than hunger.
— Reel Fishing Reports


“Salmon use all their energy for returning to their home stream, for making eggs and digging the nest. Most salmon stop eating when they return to freshwater and have no energy left for a return trip to the ocean after spawning.”
— U.S.G.S. Western Fisheries Research Center

Salmon stop eating once they head toward their respective spawning grounds. They rely solely on fat reserves for energy.”
— PBS

Salmon do not eat once they have entered fresh water and they leave the ocean heavy with the fats and nutrients that they will subsist on during their freshwater phase.”
— Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

“The upstream journey of salmon to their spawning grounds may last weeks and cover thousands of kilometer — and they don't eat during the journey.
— Canadian Museum of Nature

“King salmon are almost nothing like trout or bass. They do not bite like any other fish, in fact, they don't really bite at all. Spawning salmon are in the river only to breed. They do not eat once they hit fresh water.
— AlaskaKings.com

“Upon entering freshwater, the salmon stop eating altogether and will only strike at other fish or a fisherman’s tackle in aggravation.”
— Fish Alaska Magazine

“In the preparation for spawning the digestive system atrophies so as to make continued existence impossible, but the atrophy supplies materials and space for gametes, and unburdens the fish of extra weight, unnecessary to the single reproductive effort, in its upstream journey. The mouth of the male undergoes changes which aid the fish in sexual combat, but make it unfit for the efficient ingestion of food.
— George Williams quoted by Andrew Hendry, Asst. Professor of Biology at McGill University

“As salmon swim upstream to spawn, they stop eating and darken, and their jaws hook.”
— U.S. Forest Service

“Adult salmon returning to spawn do not eat but instead tap into fat and muscle energy reserves built up during several years in the ocean.”
— Seattle.gov

“Once they begin their spawn these fish stop eating and will eventually die.”
— Trout’s Fly Fishing

“Salmon do not usually feed after entering freshwater and severe atrophy of the digestive system sets in before spawning begins.”
— U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (1982)

“Once adult salmon begin this arduous return journey, they stop eating entirely. Using stored energy, they battle their way upstream.”
— Idaho Rivers United
 
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RunWithSasquatch

Well-known member
They spend there entire life doing nothing but stuffing everything that moves down there mouth. To bad for them there brain can't break that muscle memory once they enter the rivers.
 

brandon4455

Well-known member
ahaha. it means nothing. just the fun of another challenge, getting them to bite. but then again, some people take the pathetic lazy way and fish for meat by flossing with corkies. hehehehe fail
 
great references, logical, lots of science and big brains in those comments and quotes, now... does it mean a fisherman has crossed over to jedi when he ignores the science and chooses to go with the reality of what he has witnessed and expirenced for 30 years on 200 rivers, 5 states 2 provinces and 2 continents.. or should I just take the scientists word for it? they definitely don't explain away the fact that nooks are notorious morning biters...may not be hunger... but they are feeding.
 

Drew9870

Banned User
Saying Salmon, refers to every Salmon, being that they are fish, fish can be unpredictable, 'A' fish can be hungry or agitated at any moment, every single fish is different as a fish, just like you and I as humans, so any fish be very different than the other.

Why are some darker than others, some say genetics, maybe a genetic code causes some of the fish to rust quicker, some fish may have beat their heads on fish ladders or falls, possibly leading to infection since the body is already degrading.
 
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AK Angler

New member
I agree that salmon are generally strong morning biters, but I'm not sure how you can draw the conclusion that they are feeding. Why would a morning bite equate to "feeding?" I'm interpreting "feeding" as "they are after food," but maybe you just mean salmon spend their entire lives eating and looking for food every morning, so they continue with this morning routine while in their spawning river despite the fact that their stomachs are dissolving away.

The next time I catch a fish in the sea/estuary or one with sea lice still on it, I'm going to take a good long look at the size of its stomach and what's inside. It would be awesome if we could look at a side-by-side photo comparison of a healthy sea-run salmon stomach vs. a stomach from one that's spawned out.
 

AK Angler

New member
I wonder if the fish get grouchy like we do when their stomachs shrivel up. Maybe lack of food contributes to their irritability. Maybe they get angry at food the same way people on a diet hate things they can't eat.

Like us, maybe the longer they go without food, the angrier they get over just about anything — mad about noises, flickering lights, stuff in our way — any little thing could set them off. I can hear a salmon saying, "Dude, let's see you go four weeks without food, and I'd bet you feel like stomping the cr*p out of a Kwik Fish too, just for the hell of it, just cuz."
 
ok, now im defending the belief that salmon feed in the river, however, I fish all my salmon and steelhead with a anger strike approach, i simply believe I can get fish to hit out of anger more than a feed instinct. Often when spinner or spoon fishing I have fish chase my gear, we all see it, and often the fish bails out without a strike, thats why as soon as I see a fish chasing I open my bail and drop the spoon to the bottom, the fish will usually smack it once for good measure, but if I keep reeling he will stop as soon as he feels his space is no longer violated. I fish large intrueder flies more than any other style of fly and it produces great for me. But one can not stop wondering why size and color are so crucial in fishing if its simply a defense or anger hit... any color should work.... right? I almost never fish roe or any other bait in the river but if water color or pressure requires it... so be it, for steel if the temp is below 35 and your not using roe your odds are pretty weak, but I would never huck bait if it was warmer. Im simply saying for a fisherman to rule out scent instinct and feeding he is limiting himself and climbing into a box- Brad
 

metalfisher76

Well-known member
Absolutely! You have to assume they are going to "feed". But "can" they??? I have killed soooooooo many fish, salmon AND steel that have closed throats....slammed shut! my peeps. It twists up like that bobber you can buy that has the rubber in the center so you just twist it onto the line. I reeeeeallly wish I`d taken a pic of this winters throat but it actually had every egg he had ATTEMPTED to eat, stuck right in his gullet with a twisted throat damming it up.
1212010007.jpgThere were 8 real eggs and a EZ egg, stuck! And some steel go back! He was not goin back, in my opinion. I caught a fallie 2 years back that had three long chunks of line coming up from his guts. But only 2 hooks and my fly in his mouth(my fly was bleedin him during the fight he took it so far down). When I grabbed 1 of the lines to pull it would not come and I assumed he had swallowed that hook. But as I gutted and gilled I realized it was just that the leader broke so far up and had worked it`s way down his throat and then he threw the other end back up! It was tied to a hook in his jaw. I could NOT yank that line out of his gullet/throat, it was that tight /wrapped around insides.
Now having said all `dat! Don`t climb in the box!!
 

AK Angler

New member
A guide told me the same thing the other day — that salmon's throats cinch up so tight they can't swallow anything even if they wanted to.

Everyone keeps talking about "fishing in a box." I don't think that's what this discussion leads to at all. Understanding how salmon biology works, when the changes occur and why helps a fisherman target them more effectively. If you fish your entire life thinking salmon are eating out of hunger when they are in the river (as many anglers — even some guides — mistakenly believe), you're more likely to end up in the box than out of it.

There are three ways I know of to induce a strike from spawning salmon:

1. Exploit competitive survival instincts — getting salmon to devour/crush/chew roe they think was left behind by other fish/species, thereby improving odds of survival for their own offspring by eliminating competition for resources

2. Irritate and aggravate — using spoons, spinners, plugs, corkies, etc. to create audio/visual disturbances in the water and/or violate the salmon's sense of "personal space"

3. Exploit feeding instincts — using herring, sardines, shrimp, scents, etc. to trigger the feeding instinct.

Just because fish stop eating doesn't mean you shouldn't use bait. But you should understand that you are pushing the fish's instinctual buttons, not satisfying its hunger or appeasing its appetite. The fish remember that these things were yummy once, but the farther upriver they go, the more they can't swallow bait much less digest it. Bait can be very effective far upriver (100+ miles), just don't kid yourself into believing that the fish are trying to eat.
 
over and over the statement is made that salmon quit feeding once they leave the salt, throats do swell, stomachs disintigrate, eye site diminishes.. all true, but regarless of if a fish can swallow or digest if it eats food in the river its feeding... the changes that happen to a salmon happen days or weeks into the river, fish often travel 25 or more miles in a day, on the rightriver like the coast rivers I fish almost all my fish have lice on them, this brite of a fish is feeding and its system has not changed at all, spinners and spoons catch more boots than bait because boots have given up completely on food.. chromers WILL fall for food, like worms or roe.. just sayin.. this was a fun argument, take er easy akangler and good fishin-
 

troutdude

Moderator
great references, logical, lots of science and big brains in those comments and quotes, now... does it mean a fisherman has crossed over to jedi when he ignores the science and chooses to go with the reality of what he has witnessed and expirenced for 30 years on 200 rivers, 5 states 2 provinces and 2 continents.. or should I just take the scientists word for it? they definitely don't explain away the fact that nooks are notorious morning biters...may not be hunger... but they are feeding.
Well said HHM!

And, why would they smack on snacks of eggs, shrimp/prawns, herring, etc. etc. in non-spawing areas? Perhaps it's because they are hungry? If they truly did not eat in freshwater...why would we catch them at all? My conclusion: far too many peeps with Ph.D.'s have ZERO common sense.
 

AK Angler

New member
From the bay… to the estuary… to the reach-of-tide… to one day up river… maybe two days… out to three days… yes, the kind of fish that are still bearing sea lice are still probably in an actual "eating mode."

What salmon do instinctively after that may resemble "eating" as they go through the motions of "feeding," but according to very credible sources it becomes increasingly impossible for them to swallow and digest food.

I've never heard anything about salmon not eating only "spawning areas." My understanding is that the no-eating zone essentially begins once they are in pure fresh water and extends all the way through to the redd where they eventually die.
 

Mad dog

Well-known member
I've never caught a salmon in fresh water that has food in it's stomach in 35 years of fishing them! Doesn't stop them from trying to eat though! :D
 

OnTheFly

Well-known member
What a cool thread! Here's what I know. I believe salmon quit eating when on the road to spawn. Some say they will bite out of a bygone instinct. They will become aggrivated if something is in their way. That's why I think hog lines actually produce a bite. Also, why would salmon eggs be something a salmon would naturally eat? Unlike a lure, a salmon doesn't usually strike a hook full of roe but rather scoops it up along the way. Is the fish eating the eggs or is it doing something else with it due to another instinct? In the words of Nancy Kerrigan Why? Why? Why???
 

AK Angler

New member
They spend there entire life doing nothing but stuffing everything that moves down there mouth. To bad for them there brain can't break that muscle memory once they enter the rivers.
I've never caught a salmon in fresh water that has food in it's stomach in 35 years of fishing them! Doesn't stop them from trying to eat though! :D
I think these two statements summarize what's going on nicely.
 

AK Angler

New member
Why would salmon eggs be something a salmon would naturally eat? Unlike a lure, a salmon doesn't usually strike a hook full of roe but rather scoops it up along the way. Is the fish eating the eggs or is it doing something else with it due to another instinct? In the words of Nancy Kerrigan Why? Why? Why???

I've read a theory that some people believe the salmon are trying to scoop up the eggs, carry them upstream and plant them somewhere in the river. I find this proposition a bit dubious. Spawning grounds can be tens, hundreds, even thousands of miles upstream. Exactly how far will does the fish intend to carry this load. If I had to choose, I'd say salmon are mean and aggressive vs. caring and nurturing. Perhaps what people are seeing is a mouth full of eggs that the fish wasn't able to swallow (because it's throat has swelled shut). Maybe they came up with this theory to explain why a fish landed on a spoon/spinner came in with a big glob of eggs in its mouth. I don't know.

The theory I've heard much more commonly is the one I subscribe to. I believe that salmon (and other river spawning species) are programmed to devour eggs they encounter in the river that they know aren't from their run. Cured eggs look funny, smell funny. They obviously aren't from that salmon's spawn run, so they chew them up as a competitive instinct. They are trying to kill any potential offspring that may compete for resources with their spawned young. "If they ain't my kids/eggs, I'm chomping on them." Who knows for sure though. Again, it's just a theory. But hey, it makes sense, and jives with my broader understanding of evolution and "survival of the fittest."

I'll fish roe whenever and wherever possible. It is my first, go-to choice. Do I think salmon react to roe for the same reasons they strike other baits? No, I don't. As you pointed out, salmon don't usually eat eggs during any other part of their life cycle, so why would they do it when they return to the river to spawn? It makes sense that they would strike something that smells like steak dinner (e.g., herring or sardines), but roe? I'm skeptical that roe is triggering the feeding instinct. If it's simply a matter of aggravation, then roe would be 10x more irritating than any other thing you can chuck at salmon.
 

RunWithSasquatch

Well-known member
I dont think its quite as black and white as when they do and don't feed. I see it as more of a "spectrum," I view it as every fish runs its course at different periods of its life.

This fish was well out of the ocean in fresh water when it tried to shove the now gone herring down its throat.

But salmon dont "eat" when they enter the rivers :think:
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Such as when a fish begins to darken, compared to a bright fish. I see it as different stages in its life. A lot of there biting in the river is very clearly just an instinctual reaction. But some fish are so fresh out of the ocean that they may indeed be still trying to feed. Its all situational, for each individual fish. When I drift a river in my boat, Ill carry up to 4+ different rods each with a different tactic planned for each rod. And often will use every rod in a single hole until I find what the fish in that hole will react too, and the next hole might be bait as opposed to a spinner or spoon of the hole before. Or if neither of those, Ill shove a plug through the hole to make the fish react.

Yes at some point in a fishes life, feeding isn't on the table anymore, but the natural reaction to something in the water column still remains. I dont think they are ever done trying to put things in there mouth. Whatever the reason may be.
 

Drew9870

Banned User
Seen that kinda stuff up high on the Santiam (atleast a 70 mile trip for the Salmon), like I always say, every fish can be different even if their throats do swell up.

RWS, I agree with your methods and the way tidewater fish can be more prone to feeding than the upriver fish, the spawning mode switch doesn't flip instantly all the time.
 
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