Selection during the colonization of new habitat is critical to the process of local adaptation, but has rarely been studied. We measured the form, direction, and strength of selection on body size and date of arrival to the breeding grounds over the first three cohorts (2003–2005) of a coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) population colonizing 33 km of habitat made accessible by modification of Landsburg Diversion Dam, on the Cedar River, Washington, USA. Salmon were sampled as they bypassed the dam, parentage was assigned based on genotypes from 10 microsatellite loci, and standardized selection gradients were calculated using the number of returning adult offspring as the fitness metric. Larger fish in both sexes produced more adult offspring, and the magnitude of the effect increased in subsequent years for males, suggesting that low densities attenuated traditional size-biased intrasexual competition. For both sexes, directional selection favoured early breeders in 2003, but stabilizing selection on breeding date was observed in 2004 and 2005. Adults that arrived, and presumably bred, early produced stream-rearing juvenile offspring that were larger at a common date than offspring from later parents, providing a possible mechanism linking breeding date to offspring viability. Comparison to studies employing similar methodology indicated selection during colonization was strong, particularly with respect to reproductive timing. Finally, female mean reproductive success exceeded that needed for replacement in all years so the population expanded in the first generation, demonstrating that salmon can proficiently exploit vacant habitat.