How to Do a Salmon Spawning Survey

Salmon spawning surveys are a very important tool for determining the health of a certain species population within an area. This, how to guide will teach you how to conduct your own surveys. This manual is written for people that have taken steam watchers class or other equally education. Before conducting your survey you should check with your local Department of Natural Resources to find out any legal matters that may come up.


  1. 1
    Know what type of stream you are walking. Must surveys are done on tributaries. These can be very different depending on the area you are surveying. Water clarity is very important to complete a proper survey. Substrate is another key factor. A muddy sediment substrate can cause visibility issues while walking. With this in mind always try to walk up stream so the sediment cloud does not impede your visibility as well.
  2. 2
    Find a location. In general the best areas to conduct your survey will be located in portions of tributaries off the main stem of a river. (note1. do not trespass on private property)
  3. 3
    Wearing waders and boots, enter the stream near the mouth. Slowly begin walking up stream looking under logs, large rocks, and undercut banks for live or dead salmon.
  4. 4
    Continue walking up stream watching step for salmon redds. (do not step in redds).
  5. 5
    Walk the stream until you have reached a predetermined stopping point or a blockage that would not allow salmon the pass. These could be log jams, beaver dams, or culverts.
  6. 6
    While conducting this survey exercise environmental protection methods.
    • Do not step in Redds. Salmon redds are the area where salmon move substrate creating a divot in the steam bed, to lay their eggs. Redds typically consist of small to medium sized gravel around the outer edge with larger gravel at the base of the divot.
  7. 7
    Make sure that you return any carcasses found back to the river to ensure the transfer of marine derived nurturance.
  8. 8
    Do not break up beaver dams or log jams as they are an important part of the habitat as well.
    • When crossing over a logjam use extreme caution. Try to walk around it if possible. If not, make sure you have a stable footing with each step. Do not break up logs no matter what the size is.
  9. 9
    Follow these steps in the event you see a live salmon:
    • Slowly move around it (on the bank if possibly) so you do not disturb it.
    • Keep a live count on your paper noting sex, and specie if possible.
    • Mark a way point in the general area that saw the salmon.
  10. 10
    Follow these steps in the event you see a dead salmon:
    • Use the gaff to retrieve the carcass and take to and nearby area to take samples.
    • Turn the coded wire tag (CWT) wand on and scan the top of the head for a tag. If the wands beeps, make a note of it.
    • Using the cloth tape, measure from the front (mouth) the end of the tail. record.
    • Using the forceps, remove three scales and place them on the scale card.
    • Using the hole punch, punch a whole in the cuddle (tail) fin and place the sample in the contain with a label.
    • If your test for a coded CWT was positive, you will now remove the head.
    • Make a downward cut behind the eyes of the fish to the corner of its mouth. At this point the top portion should be free.
    • Place it in a new contain with a the same label number as the genetic sample.
    • Finally, you will cut off the tail and place the carcass back in the water. This is done so that fish can not be recounted at a later date.
    • Record all data taken and the date as well as the name of the body of water you are surveying.


  • Knives can be sharp always cut away from you.
  • Gaff are sharp always keep in a safe position while handling.
  • Rocks may be slick use caution while walking
  • Always check with local or state Departments of Natural Resources before conducting a survey.
  • Water levels may change quickly.
  • When crossing over log jams use extreme caution. Use your hands to stabilize yourself and move slow.
  • Before you leave for your survey tell someone where you plan on going. Also tell them what time you are leaving and your estimated return time.

Things You'll Need

  • Waders with felt bottom boots (1)
  • Cloth measuring tape (1)
  • A map of the area (1)
  • Pencil (2)
  • Waterproof paper
  • Knife (1)
  • Polarized sunglasses (1)
  • Billed hat (1)
  • Gaff (1)
  • Handheld GPS unit (1)
  • Permanent marker (1)
  • Standard hole punch (1)
  • Small containers (10)
  • Coded wire tag wand (1)
  • Scale cards
  • Forceps

Article Info

Categories: Fishing