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Pacific Salmon Facts

Pacific Salmon Facts

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There are six species of Pacific Salmon, five of which occur in the Pacific Northwest- the Chinook (nicknamed King), the Coho (nicknamed Silver), the Pink (nicknamed Humpy), the Chum (nicknamed Dog), and the Sockeye (nicknamed Red) Salmon. The Chinook and the Coho are considered the most important sport fish and are certainly the most popular, but the Chum is gaining in popularity due to huge runs on many rivers, making it accessible to anglers who otherwise would not have the time and means to hunt the great Chinook or the elusive Coho. In recent years, salmon stocks have diminished as a result of commercial over fishing, habitat destruction, dam emplacement, and pollution. Several subspecies are being considered for the endangered species list and the government is implementing measures to protect wild runs while reducing the numbers of hatchery stocks.

Chinook (King) Salmon

The Chinook is the largest species of Pacific Salmon, reaching up to 126 pounds, but rarely exceeding 60. It averages about 18 pounds and in several Washington rivers, it is not uncommon for anglers to hook 30 to 40 pound fish. The Chinook salmon has irregular black spots on its back, dorsal fin, and both lobes of caudal fin. It has black pigment at teeth bases, giving it the nickname "blackmouth" by fisherman who catch the smaller, immature fish in Puget Sound. At spawning time, the fish is less emaciated than other species, and the female may be plump and bright 500 miles from the sea. The male gets progressively blacker on the spawning run while the female takes on a rich brassy color. The goal to the river angler is to catch Kings still bright from the sea, more highly sought for culinary reasons than those that have deteriorated with age. Spawned out, darker salmon have no value to the sport fisherman.

Coho (Silver) Salmon

The Coho occurs in angler's catches second only to the Chinook. It is questionable whether it is as popular as the Chinook, but is certainly a very close second. It's aerial acrobatics and fighting tenacity when hooked make it the most popular among many fisherman. Coho have been caught in weights up to about 33 pounds, but the average is closer to 6-12 pounds at maturity. Coho salmon are silvery in color with black spots confined to the back and upper lobe of the caudal fin. It has a white gum line at the teeth bases. Spawning Coho develop reddish sides; the male is usually brighter red than the female. The sides of the male develop a bright red streak with the dorsal surface and head turning bluish-green.

Sockeye (Red) Salmon

The Sockeye is the most valuable commercially and for this reason its stocks have been significantly reduced. Angling for this species has been seriously restricted in recent years to improve wild runs. Sockeye salmon are sleek and silvery with blue-black on top of the head and silvery-white jaws. There are no distinct black spots on the tail or back. Weight at maturity averages 5-7 pounds. Spawning Sockeyes turn bright red on their body, and olive-green on the head. Males develop a prominent hump in front of the dorsal fin and are brighter red than the females.

Chum (Dog) Salmon

The Chum salmon is distinguished by having no large black spots on the fins or body, black-tinged fins, except the dorsal, and are silvery bright with some green pigmentation on the head and back. They are the largest of the Pacific Salmon lacking black spots. Chums reach a weight of about 33 pounds, but average in the 8-18 pound range. Spawning Chum salmon display distinctive olive-green and purple vertical bars on the sides of the body. Although not valued for culinary reasons, it is becoming popular as a smoked fish and huge runs of hatchery fish are becoming popular sport for Washington fisherman. Unfortunately, its large eggs are valued commercially, especially in Japanese markets, and commercial fisherman are over harvesting it as well. Often, the fish are caught, stripped of their eggs, and their carcasses washed to shore to rot.

Pink (Humpy) Salmon

Pink salmon is the smallest species of Pacific Salmon. It averages about 3-5 pounds at maturity, with a maximum of 10 pounds. It is recognized by its large, oval black blotches on the back and entire tail, and small scales compared to the other salmon species. The body color of spawning male and female Pinks darkens from a bright silvery appearance to a pale slate, brownish, or gray on the back and sides and a pale, whitish color below. The male develops a prominent hump in front of the dorsal fin. Spawning runs of pinks usually occur every two years in Washington rivers, but when they do, they provide great sport, readily taking a fly or spinner. Pink salmon are another species that have been commercially over fished and are now protected on many rivers.

For more information about Pacific Salmon, visit WDFW's Salmon Facts page.
and read the article on this site:
Fly Fishing the Estuaries, Tidal Waters, and Open Ocean for Pacific Salmon
Fly Fishing the Estuaries, Tidal Waters, and Open Ocean for Pacific Salmon



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