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Exploring Salmon’s Diet: The Role of Salmon Eggs

If you have ever been fishing for salmon in a river, you have probably seen fishermen using clumps of cured salmon eggs as bait. Heck, you yourself might fish for salmon using salmon eggs or beads! But why do salmon eat salmon eggs?

Salmon eat salmon eggs because they are part of the fish’s natural diet when they are young. Salmon also eat salmon eggs because during the spawning season they are overly aggressive and territorial. Eggs are a sign of other fish they are competing with, so they attack them out of impulse.

Kind of fascinating isn’t it? But there is a lot more as to why salmon eat their own eggs. In this article, we’ll go over exactly why salmon eat salmon eggs as well as how you as a fisherman can capitalize on using eggs as bait! We’ll also go over the salmon’s natural migration lifecycle to better understand how their tendencies. 

Let’s get started!

Salmon Eat Their Own Eggs for Several Reasons

As we mentioned earlier, there are a few reasons why salmon eat salmon eggs. It’s not just because they are hungry! Here are the details as to why salmon eat their own eggs.

  1. Salmon eat fish eggs as part of their diet. When salmon are first born and are fish fry, they eat other smaller species of fish eggs. They also eat plankton and krill, but when they’re small fish eggs serve as an easy and nutritious meal. As they get older they tend to focus more on larger prey such as small fish and herring once they are in the ocean. But the instinct to eat fish eggs is still present, which is why even adult salmon will still eat eggs from time to time. Salmon don’t recognize other salmon eggs as their own, so anything is fair game!
  2. Running salmon are territorial. Another big reason you’ll see salmon eat other salmon eggs when they are migrating to spawn is that they become extremely territorial. There is only a set amount of river for the salmon to spawn in, so they fight one another to get to the best spots. This leads to overly aggressive fish that won’t hesitate to destroy other fish eggs in their region, salmon or not.
  3. Salmon eggs are bright in color. Along with salmon being territorial when they spawn, they are also rash and impulsive. When a bunch of bright colored eggs floats past them, they can’t help themselves but lash out. Many times salmon will attack a clump of eggs not because they are hungry but simply because they are annoyed by them. The brighter colored the eggs, the more attention they get.

What Fish Eat Salmon Eggs?

Salmon roe

Salmon aren’t the only fish that will attack salmon eggs! This is why salmon eggs make great bait for many different species of fish. Here are the most common species that will also attack salmon eggs.

  • Steelhead
  • Rainbow trout
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Kokanee

Author Note: We recommend using a simple weighted rig with a clump of cured salmon eggs for the larger species. For the smaller species like bluegill, you can use a single egg on a small hook.

Where Can I Catch Salmon with Salmon Eggs?

Different species of salmon live all across the west coast and can be caught from California all the way up into Alaska. Depending on the time of year, salmon can be caught both from the ocean as well as inshore in rivers. 

When the salmon are in the open ocean, they’re interested in eating herring and other baitfish rather than salmon eggs. But once they’re spawning run starts and they enter freshwater, salmon eggs becomes a viable bait option. 

This usually occurs starting in September and goes through November. The further upstream you fish for salmon, the more effective salmon eggs becomes as bait. As we mentioned earlier, salmon that make their way upstream get more aggressive and territorial. This adds to their tendency to lash out at salmon eggs

It’s worth noting that the longer you wait in the spawning season to catch salmon, the worse their meat quality becomes. As salmon get ready to spawn, their bodies begin to decompose and turn brown/red. 

This means that there is a trade-off for using salmon eggs as bait. If you’re fishing for salmon to eat their meat, focus on fishing with salmon eggs as early in the spawning season as possible. This is usually after the first big rainstorm in September or October. The rain signals the salmon to begin swimming upstream (there’s more water for them to swim through and past obstacles).

Why Do Salmon Lay Eggs Upstream?

Salmon swimming

As we mentioned earlier, the biggest reason salmon lay their eggs upstream is to protect them from washing away in the ocean and from predators. Salmon have learned that many more of their eggs will survive longer if they are in a habitat that protects them. A small stream far away from the ocean is perfect for this.

Author Note: It took many thousands of years for salmon to evolve and figure this out, but this is the main reason why salmon lay their eggs in freshwater. The salmon that started laying their eggs in streams began to outlive the salmon that laid them elsewhere, and evolution prevailed.

Do Salmon Eggs Go Bad?

The short answer to this is yes, salmon eggs can definitely go bad. Like any other food, if you leave them out in unfavorable conditions they will begin to decay. But since salmon eggs are often cured with salt and other preservatives, they can last a long time. 

If you keep your cured salmon eggs in the fridge or freezer, they can last many months and still be very effective. We recommend vacuum packing your unused eggs and freezing them. This will allow you to use them up to a year or so later without them losing any effectiveness. 

Salmon eggs that have been dehydrated will also last much longer than fresh eggs. Dehydration makes the eggs much harder for bacteria and mold to live on them. We recommend both dehydrating and curing your eggs so they have the longest shelf life.

When Do Salmon Eggs Hatch?

Depending on the species of salmon, their eggs will hatch at different times of the year. For most species, however, their eggs need to incubate for 90 to 150 days before they hatch. This means if the salmon spawned in October, they will hatch sometime in January or February the following year. 

When the salmon eggs first hatch, the tiny salmon will spend the next few weeks hiding in the gravel feeding on plankton. These salmon larvae are very small and stay protected from the currents by hiding in the bottom of the stream.

How to Turn Salmon Eggs into Bait

Buying salmon eggs for bait can get expensive, and if you fish for salmon enough you’ll want to start curing your own salmon eggs of the fish you catch. You’ll never throw an egg sack away again after this. If you’re looking for even more detailed instructions, check out our article on salmon roe bait

Salmon eggs are turned into bait by curing them in salt, sugar, borax, and food coloring. The curing process firms the eggs up and makes them more enticing for aggressive salmon. 

Items Needed for Curing Salmon Eggs

Raw salmon eggs
  1. Salmon eggs
  2. Egg cure
  3. One gallon ziplock bag.
  4. Paper towels.
  5. Scissors.

Steps for Curing the Salmon Eggs

Author Note: Before we get into the steps of curing your salmon eggs, it’s important to treat the salmon properly after catching it. Aim to cure your salmon eggs within 24 hours of catching the salmon.

  1. After you’ve caught a female salmon and bled it out, cut the fish down the belly to remove the eggs.
  2. In order to maximize the curing surface area, butterfly each egg skein to increase the amount of contact your cure will have with the eggs. This will also help the eggs dry out faster.
  3. Place the butterflied skeins in your one-gallon plastic bag and add ~1/2 cup of egg cure. Depending on the type of cure you use you’ll need more or less than this amount.
  4. Gently shake the salmon eggs and cure mixture to cover all surfaces of the skeins.
  5. Now it’s time to wait. Let the egg mixture rest for at least 8 hours for the cure to work. After a few hours, you’ll see a colored liquid has been pulled out of the eggs from the salt.
  6. After 8 hours, your salmon egg bait is ready to go! If you plan on fishing with them in a week or less, you can store them in your fridge. Otherwise, vacuum pack and store them in the freezer for later use.

Parting Thoughts

Watching salmon eat salmon eggs is a very strange phenomenon at first. Why would a fish eat it’s own species eggs? As you have now learned, there are several reasons why salmon eat salmon eggs. 

Salmon eat fish eggs as part of their natural diet when they are young, and as it’s hard for us to not enjoy fatty or sugary foods we loved as kids, salmon continue to eat eggs on occasion as adults. 

Salmon also become very aggressive and territorial while spawning which can also cause them to attack their own eggs. There’s a limited amount of space in each river for salmon to spawn, so they don’t want other fish taking up their space. 

We hope you found this article on why do salmon eat salmon eggs interesting and informative! Fishing for salmon using eggs or bead fishing can be a ton of fun. Give it a try next time you’re bored of trolling!

Happy Hunting! 


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