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Abstract We used retrospective scale growth chronologies and return size and age of female Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) from a northern California, USA, population collected over 22 run years and encompassing 18 complete cohorts to model the effects of oceanographic conditions on growth during ocean residence. Using path analyses and partial least squares regressive approaches, we related growth rate and maturation to seven environmental variables (sea level height, sea surface temperature, upwelling, curl, scalar wind, northerly pseudo-wind stress and easterly pseudo-wind stress). During the first year of life, growth was negatively related to summer sea surface temperature, curl and scalar winds, and was positively related to summer upwelling. During the second, third and fourth growth years growth rate was negatively related to sea level height and sea surface temperature, and was positively related to upwelling and curl. The age at maturation and the fork length at which three ocean-winter fish returned were related to the environment experienced during the spring before the third winter at sea (the year prior return). Faster growth during the year before return led to earlier maturation and larger return size.