Why Do Kokanee Die After Spawning?

Two Spawning Salmon

As I have been learning about more fish, the kokanee has become an interest of mine. When I learned that they die after spawning, I wanted to know why so, I did some research.

Why do kokanee die after spawning?Kokanee salmon are a type of fish that follow a life pattern that is called a semelparous lifestyle. This means that they will naturally die shortly after spawning. This is a fact of their biology, not usually a consequence of an illness or their environment.

Kokanee are interesting and beautiful fish, so sometimes it’s strange to see them die off suddenly. But since they are semelparous fish, this is a normal part of their life cycle. Many Pacific Ocean fish are semelparous, so this is not even unique to Kokanee.

What Are Kokanee?

Kokanee are a type of salmon that can be found in the Pacific Ocean. They migrate into freshwater rivers and streams in the American Northwest, Japan, Korea, and Russia. Kokanee are the landlocked version of the sockeye salmon.

Kokanee can range in weight between three to five pounds. However, because they are usually quite young, it is more likely that you will only find one pound fish. Kokanee are plankton eaters and can starve in places where there is not a lot of plankton. This is causing several of the kokanee to die off.

Kokanee is also extremely picky about the temperature of their water. If you are a fisherman trying to catch them you can easily track down the temperature that they like. They will typically be found in natural water lakes and streams. Kokanee oftentimes travels in school so when you come across one chance are if you hurry and cast again you’ll most likely catch another.

Young kokanee undergo a big change before spawning. Typically in their fourth year, kokanee change from a shiny silver to a smooth red color. This is the sign that it is getting ready to spawn. After they spawn they will turn green. If you see a green kokanee, that means it is going to die soon.

Not only do the kokanee change color but their entire body will change. They will go from a regular small fish to all of a sudden having hooked jaws and the males will grow teeth.

This color change and life cycle is part of being a semelparous fish. The opposite of semelparous is iteroparous. An example of an iteroparous fish would be the steelhead. These fish do not die after spawning; in fact they can go on to spawn many more times!

It may seem sad that kokanee die after they spawn, but it is actually extremely good for the environment! The dead kokanee provide a tremendous food source for bald eagles and bears, along with other animals.

Kokanee are a great fish to catch for sport. They are extremely agressive and will do anything to get off the hook. If you are trying to catch one make sure you have a good drag on your pull or else, they are sure to tear apart your pole.

When kokanee are ready to spawn, they will return to the streams that they migrated from to lay their eggs. These fish can migrate as early as September but chances are it will most likely cross over into October.

Once the kokanee return to their stream, they will spawn in pairs between the months of November and December. The eggs are laid in what are called redds. These hatch in about 110 degrees. However, these newborn fish will never meet their parents because after spawning the kokanee will quickly die off.


When kokanee are born, they are born in streams. However, they will migrate up the stream to a natural water lake. This is where they will stay for the main part of their lives. Once they are matured and ready to spawn they will return down the stream and lay their eggs.

Male kokanee are extremely aggressive in their habitats. Most of the time the only aggression that happens comes when there is an intruding male. Once in a while there may be a dominant kokanee that attacks a subordinate kokanee. However, these attacks are very breif with the dominant male only making a couple of attacks before making their point.

Female kokanee are also extremely aggressive. This occurs mainly during their spawning time. They will usually only attack other females. They will be aggressive toward any intruding female fish. Whether this is to make sure no one takes her mate, or to keep her eggs safe, is unclear. But it does seem like this aggressive instinct comes from a desire to protect.

Females don’t just attack other females. They will occasionally attack a subordinate male as well. Even though both sexes are aggressive, female kokanee will only attack a couple times before the intruder runs off. Once the intruder is gone, the female will return back to her redd and watch over her eggs while waiting to die.

While some may not think much of the importance of competition and the attacks between the two sexes, it is what entitles the female to a good redd for her eggs. If the male and the female kokanee cannot prove their dominance, they are less likely to get a protected area for their eggs.

Not only do both sexes fight after spawning, there is also a lot of fighting to determine who their mate will be for the spawn. The spawning success really is determined and varied more by the male than the female.

Males need to attract a female by showing that he is large in size. The large (and sometimes ugly) teeth of the male also play a big role in what attracts the female to become the mate. The role of the female is to somehow prove to the male that she will be able to lay and protect a great amount of eggs. The amount of eggs and the size of the female will determine the success of the spawning.

Not only does the female have to prove herself to the male, but the female’s spawning cannot be considered a success if little to none of her eggs survive. A big reason why the genders will fight and become so aggressive, is because they won’t be considered successful unless they have a good redd to keep their eggs safe.

How to Catch Kokanee

To catch a kokanee, you may want to purchase a good sonar or radar to attach to your boat. Just because they are somewhere in the lake one day doesn’t always mean they will be there again the next day. These are fish that travel in schools, the key word being travel. They are not very likely to stay in one place for very long.

In the past, it was recommended that fishermen buy heavy gear to catch the kokanee. However, as more fishing products are invented and more innovations of lighter materials are being made, the earlier heavy materials are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Now, if you want to catch a kokanee it is recommened that you buy an extremely light rod with a good drag.

Interestingly enough, when you go to buy lures to catch kokanee the goal is to find one that will make the kokanee angry. Since kokanee are fiercely protective, they are likely to attack anything that seems foreign and threatening. Their main way of fighting back is to bite, which is great news for fishermen!

A good stretegy to try is to tip your lure with a scented or flashy bait. Some examples may include maggots, shrimp, and corn. These can be found in your local Walmart or on Amazon. The key to whatever you choose to purchase is not to put too much on your lure. If there is too much on the lure, it will distract from the main purpose of the lure.

Related Questions:

Do salmon die shortly after spawning? Salmon stop eating when they return to the fresh water. Since they stop eating after spawning, they don’t have enough energy to make another journey. This, plus the biological strain of migration and spawning, leads to their death.

How long after spawning do salmon die? It does not take very long for the salmon to die after spawning. This is caused by their lack of nutrition and decaying of their nutrients. It may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for salmon to die.

Which salmon do not die after spawning? Unlike the Pacific Ocean salmon, the Atlantic Ocean salmon do not die after spawning. In fact, adult salmon can actually produce for many years allowing for greater proliferation of that specific type.

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Striped Bass.

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