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Thread: Age of Sockeye returning to Copper

  1. #1
    Member Reel Bob's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2009

    Default Age of Sockeye returning to Copper

    Looking back at the history of fish counts. What years should I be looking at? How old are the Reds that are returning to the Copper River? I have access to a fish wheel on the 8th-10th of June....Thanx

  2. #2

    Default Not Cut and Dried

    Short answer: Age range is variable. Smolt up to four years in fresh water, then one to four years at sea.

    Some folks claim 4 years as the rule of thumb, but you're better off looking at run timing trends.

    • There are basically 2 surges of fish hitting the river: late May-early June and mid July.
    • Timing difference for arrival above the bridge at the fishwheels depends on water levels and behavior of individual groups of fish.
    • Early season lower water levels faster arrival: less than 2 weeks from the sonar counter.
    • Late season higher water levels longer arrival, but the river can be plugged with fish. Up to 3 weeks from counter, but you've got slugs of fish in the river making their move in groups depending on how they feel.
    • Lower water levels=a bit more difficulty getting good position and performance out of the wheel.
    • Higher water levels=more chance for debris and water flow taking out your wheel.
    • King run is early in the season.

    Here's the ADF&G answer for sockeye in general:

    "Life history: Sockeye salmon are anadromous: they live in the sea and enter freshwater systems to spawn. After hatching, juvenile sockeye salmon may spend up to four years in fresh water before migrating to sea as silvery smolt weighing only a few ounces. They grow quickly in the sea, usually reaching a size of 4 to 8 pounds after one to four years. Mature sockeye salmon travel thousands of miles from ocean feeding areas to spawn in the same freshwater system where they were born. Little is known about the navigation mechanisms or cues they use on the high seas, although some evidence suggests that they may be able to use cues from the earth's magnetic field. Once near their natal freshwater system, sockeye salmon use olfactory cues to guide them home. Like all Pacific salmon, sockeye salmon die within a few weeks after spawning.

    Maturing sockeye salmon return to freshwater systems from the ocean during the summer months, and most populations show little variation in their arrival time on the spawning grounds from year to year. Freshwater systems with lakes produce the greatest number of sockeye salmon. Spawning usually occurs in rivers, streams, and upwelling areas along lake beaches. The female selects the spawning site, digs a nest (redd) with her tail, and deposits eggs in the downstream portion of the redd as one or more males swim beside her and fertilize the eggs as they are extruded. After each spawning act, the female covers the eggs by dislodging gravel at the upstream end of the redd with her tail. A female usually deposits about five batches of eggs in a redd. Depending upon her size, a female produces from 2,000 to 4,500 eggs.

    Eggs hatch during the winter, and the young sac-fry, or alevins, remain in the gravel, living off the material stored in their yolk sacs, until early spring. At this time they emerge from the gravel as fry and move into rearing areas. In systems with lakes, juveniles usually spend one to three years in fresh water before migrating to the ocean in the spring as smolts. However, in systems without lakes, many juveniles migrate to the ocean soon after emerging from the gravel.

    Sockeye salmon return to their natal stream to spawn after spending one to four years in the ocean. Mature sockeye salmon that have spent only one year in the ocean are called jacks and are, almost without exception, males. Once in the ocean, sockeye salmon grow quickly. While returning adults usually weigh between 4 and 8 pounds, weights in excess of 15 pounds have been reported.

    In some areas, populations of sockeye salmon remain in fresh water all their lives. This landlocked form of sockeye salmon, called "kokanee," reaches a much smaller maximum size than the anadromous form and rarely grows to be over 14 inches long."

    Bottom line: you should be fine in that time range, IMO.


  3. #3


    I saw a recent article in the FDNM that said they are expecting a good sized red run, with a lot of 5 year old fish coming back through. As I recall, they are expecting a smaller king run... but all I need is 1 (per permit)

  4. #4
    Member coho slayer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2008


    Tony (or anyone that knows),

    Is there a size difference between the two typical surges? Last year we got a lot of fairly little ones going in mid-June, but I don't know if that was just luck or typical.

  5. #5

    Default Different Stock at Different Times

    The second surge has a high proportion of Gulkana hatchery fish in it, with Tonsina fish the last up the river. Every group has its own characteristics.



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