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What Anglers Need To Know About Salmon Fishing Species Differentiation


For most novice fishermen or women one of the hardest parts about salmon fishing is being able to clearly identify which particular type of salmon that they have caught. Since fishing regulations are based on species it is extremely important that you can tell each from the other to prevent being in violation of the license and potentially facing fines or even more severe outcomes. Learning about salmon fishing and various species is not too difficult, and the general descriptions provided below should be all that is needed to identify the salmon species.

The following tips about salmon fishing species identification will apply only to mature salmon and may not apply to juveniles and smelts.

Chinook – it is important to keep in mind when talking about salmon fishing that many species go by different names. The Chinook is also known as the King and blackmouth. It is the largest of the Pacific salmon, and is easily identified by the distinct black coloration to the lower gums. They are olive or brown in coloration on the back with darker black coloration on the sides. They have many small, dark spots on the back.

Coho – also known as Silver salmon, are smaller than the Chinook or King salmon. They have a bluish green color to the skin on the head and back. Depending on the time of year the sides of the Coho may be wine colored or even a very brilliant red. The cover of the gills will also be very reddish throughout the year.

Chum – one of the less common salmon it is important to know about salmon fishing this species to be successful. They will typically not move far inland and will stay close to salt water. Chum is the second largest of the Pacific salmon species and are easily distinguished by their red to purplish blue color and horizontal bars. They also have a very distinctive and pronounced set of teeth.

Sockeye – this salmon is very red in color and may occasionally be mistaken for the Coho because of the coloration. Sockeye spend up to two years in a fresh water lake before moving out the ocean, and are unique in this aspect. They have no distinct spots and the female is less brilliantly colored than the male. Male Sockeyes have a noticeable hump on their back just in front of the dorsal fin.

Kokanee – this is the truly land locked salmon, living its complete live cycle in a fresh water lake, never venturing to the salt water. In physical description they are almost identical the Sockeye, being red in color and males having the dorsal hump.

When learning about salmon fishing and fish identification it is a great idea to bring a salmon identification book and remember to practice conservation and return fish to the water whenever limits are reached.


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