Salmon Survival Game


This game shepherds children and adults through the life stages of salmon, while also emphasizing:
-the obstacles and threats that salmon face throughout their lives
-the survival rate of salmon in each life stage
-the pattern and distance of anadromous fish migration
-the reproductive strategy of salmon

TU’s salmon life cycle game is intended for children and adults, ages 6&up.  Children on the younger end of the spectrum may need considerable adult guidance in the mechanics of the game, as it involves estimation and fractions.

Each game participant starts the game with a cup of lentils—this is their “redd” (nest) of freshly-laid salmon eggs.  The participant visits each of nine stations, which represent the various life stages of the salmon.  At each station, the participant rolls a die to discover the challenge or obstacle that reduces the size of their salmon population and they pour the indicated fraction of their remaining lentils into a receptacle at that station before moving on.  Most participants return to the starting table—their “natal stream” (stream where their eggs were laid)—with somewhere between two and five “fish” (lentils).  Luckily, this is enough fish to lay a new nest of eggs, and the cycle of life continues.


  1.   10 lbs red lentils, in a container or two
  2. 16 small cups (4-6 ounces), to hold each participant’s lentils
  3. 10 64-ounce plastic food storage containers (or other lentil receptacle at each station)
  4. 9 station labels (provided) either taped on container lids or put on nearby signs
  5. 9 station dice with possible threats/obstacles – either wooden blocks or cardstock (labels provided)
  6. tape, markers, scissors, cardstock, label stickers as neededan open space to set up the game!
  7. (optional) Salmon Life Cycle booklet handout (template provided)



1. Prepare nine stations with the nine station labels, either on the lids of the containers (as shown above), or as signs to post around your playing area.  Print the labels in color or use marker to color-code each label.  Color-coding the stations makes set-up and clean up much easier!

2. Build the nine dice from the templates by either:
a. printing them on cardstock and building the cubes
b. affixing each square to each face of a block

Print the dice in color or accent the dice with the color to match the station they belong to.  Color-coding the stations makes set up and clean up much easier!


Set your stations up in such a way that each player must make a relatively long “migration” to play the whole game.  You can see in the photo in the attached guide that the pond served as the “ocean,” and the farthest station, 6, was all the way down there, very far from the starting table.  Station 9 is out of the photo.

At each station, place the station label (sign or lid of container), receptacle for lentils (this might be the container that is labeled), and the die corresponding to that station.

Stations 1 and 2 should be very near each other (as they are both egg stages), and very near the “natal stream” home table.  This way, you can assist players with the first few stations, to make sure they have the hang of it.  Then, send them off on their journey, which should be a clear path, but quite far.  I recommend having your players “swim” down one side of the field/space and then back up the other side.

The home table is ready to both send new players off on their journey (with a cup of lentils) and also receive returning players with their few lentils left.  When players return, they should be able to turn in their cups and also pick up their optional booklet handout (attached worksheet).

As your visitors play
-You may find that it is helpful to have a volunteer or educator circulating during the game, helping with fractions, explaining unfamiliar words, and otherwise engaging the participants.
-From time to time, you will also need someone to go out into the field and collect lentils from the stations, especially 1-3, as those accumulate the most.  Eventually you will need those lentils back at the starting table, in order to hand them out to the new incoming participants


1.    Each participant begins by arriving at the main table.  There, give each participant a small (4 oz.) cupful of lentils and tell them that this is their salmon “redd.”  Each lentil represents one salmon egg that could eventually grow into an adult salmon.  In fact, the number of lentils that is in each cup is approximately the number of eggs that a pair of adult salmon lay in a redd.

2.    Walk the participant to the first station, or send them to your educator or volunteer who is waiting there.  At the first station, explain that salmon go through many life stages.  Some salmon make it through all the life stages, but at each life stage, there are threats and obstacles that can prevent a salmon from surviving.  Each station shows the participant what life stage they are at and also presents some obstacles that at least some of their salmon will have to avoid.

3.    Have the participant read the text of the first station label.  Then explain that the die has some of the threats that are posed to salmon at that life stage.  They must roll the die to see what happens to their salmon.  Have the participant read whatever threat their salmon face from the die, and the fraction of how many succumb to that threat.

4.    The participant then pours that fraction of their lentils into the station receptacle.  Remind the participant that, at each station, the fraction they read is to be applied to however many lentils are left in the cup (not the total that they started with).  For example, if the participant rolls that ½ of their salmon are eaten by a big fish, then they pour ½ of their remaining lentils into the receptacle before moving on.

5.    The participant must then visit the next 8 stations, and roll the die at each one.

6.    When the participant returns to the table with however many salmon they have left, ask about what happened.  Ask how many salmon they have left.  And ask how many are needed to build a new redd and lay a whole new batch of eggs.

7.    Have the participant return their cup and any remaining lentils.  They can then pick up a booklet to illustrate, in which they can capture some of what they’ve learned.  You might even provide crayons or colored pencils for them to get started at your booth.


What happened to all your salmon?  
Where did you lose the most salmon?
What kinds of predators did your salmon encounter?
Was there anything that humans did to hurt the salmon?

The Life Story of the Salmon booklet
The activity guide's page 6 is a single-page handout that can be folded into a small booklet.  Participants can illustrate each page to reflect the life experience they just had during the game.   You may want to fold the paper into booklets ahead of time, or you may want to teach the participants how to do it.  In either case, it is not hard to do.  When printed, pages 5&6 of this guide can be used as a complete handout for your booth—with instructions on the back—just make double-sided copies! 


Activity by Rochelle Gandour-Rood, TU’s Headwaters Youth Program Coordinator.

Many thanks to TU Chapter 383, North Kitsap Bainbridge Island, for requesting this activity in the first place, and for piloting it at a spring fly fishing expo on Bainbridge Island.

Gratitude to TU Chapter 146, Tacoma, for continuing to work with the activity, and to Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and Pierce Conservation District for their interest in the game.

Thanks, also, to Long Live the Kings for their illustrations, scientific consultation, and other assistance in creating this final version of the game.


Stream Explorers magazine

Trout Unlimited publishes a children’s magazine that you are welcome to print and distribute free of charge.  We only ask that you do not make any alterations to the publication, with the exception of adding your logo or contact information to the space on the back.  The three most relevant issues are:

Steelhead – Journey to the Ocean

Steelhead—Journey Back Upstream

Pacific Salmon

You can see all our issues of Stream Explorers online.

If you would like to purchase back issues or receive the high-resolution file to print locally, please email us at

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