Chinook Salmon

As a fisherman in the United States, you will want to catch as many different types of fish as you can. Nothing compares to that feeling of finally pulling a huge fish out of our stunning waters and watching it wriggle around. But do you know how to tell what fish you have on the end of the line? With so many fish species out there, telling them apart can be a little daunting, especially if you are still a bit of a novice. To help you out, we have put together this little guide to help you identify the kings of salmons, the Chinook Salmon. 

What is a Chinook Salmon

The Chinook Salmon is the largest salmon we have on our Pacific Coast. The average size of a fully grown Chinnon is around three feet, weighing in at around 30 pounds. However, they have been known to grow as large as five feet, weighing in at 110 pounds. That is some salmon to catch. They are an anadromous species, meaning they can live in saltwater and freshwater – feeding in the salty Pacific waters and migrating up rivers to spawn. They enjoy living in cold waters, preferring nothing warmer than 25 degrees celsius. Chinook Salmon are a single spawner species meaning they only spawn one time, and then they die. 

The Chinook Salmon displays two different strategies of life. They are the ocean type and the river type. The ocean type of Chinook generally swims out into the ocean within the first three months of their lives and will stay in the coastal waters. This type of Chinook will use coastal waters and estuaries a lot more than other salmon types. The river Chinook is commonly found in large river systems. They do, however, migrate out to the North Pacific, but they will spend a lot more time in freshwater than the ocean type. Due to the fact they spend more of their life in the freshwater, by the time they enter the ocean, they are much more fully grown than the ocean‐type.

The Chinook are decorated with a blue-green color on their heads. Down their sides, they are silver. The Chinook Salmon are marked with irregular black spots on their tails, back, and upper fins. These black spots, combined with the silvery sides, mark the Chinook apart from other salmon in their subspecies. In addition, they also have black markings on and around their gums, which is another way to tell them apart. You can identify the male Chinook by the fact they have a ridged back and a hooked nose at the top of the mouth. Both sexes of Chinook develop a red tint around their tails and down their back fins during the mating season. So watch out for that. 

Where to Fish for Chinook Salmon 

The Chinook Salmon is a cold-water fish (less than 25 degrees celsius). They can be found in the North Pacific Ocean’s coastal areas, and the river systems adjoined to this part. Their range is generally considered to be from between the Monterey Bay area of California to the Chukchi Sea area of Alaska. That means that they can be found in remote regions of Alaska and western Canada, aka – British Colombia, Oregon, Idaho, Washington state, and North of California. They have even been introduced into some of the great lakes. If you want to fish for Chinook, some of the best places to make a decent catch include Ship Creek in Anchorage, Alaska, and Lake Oahe in South Dakota. Other good spots include the Columbia River and the Sacramento River, where you can catch Chinook while passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

During their lives, the Chinook Salmon use a variety of different habitats. Adult Chinooks generally tend to lay their eggs in the rapidly moving waters of rivers and streams along the Northern Coast. However, the juvenile salmon will spend time in freshwater rivers before heading all the way downstream to the estuaries. They enjoy a mixture of fresh and saltwater. When they mature, they migrate out into the open ocean.

If you want to catch Chinook Salmon, you need to be aware that they are rather sensitive to light. They tend to stay at the bottom of the body of water you are fishing in. If you want to catch one, we advise that you fish early in the morning or late in the evening. You should try to use weighted bait for the best results.  

Chinook Salmon Fun Facts

When you are down the river waiting for that perfect catch, why not impress some of your Angler mates by memorizing a few of these facts:

  • The heaviest Chinook ever caught weighed in at a whopping 126 pounds. This was found in Petersbery Alaska, in 1949.
  • Due to their enormous size, they have also been dubbed King Salmon.
  • Male Chinooks are actually more colorful than their female counterparts.
  • Juvenile Chinooks feast upon small crustaceans, especially amphipods, plankton, and insects, while their adult counterparts tend to eat other fish, as well as sand lance, squid, and crustaceans.
  • The Chinook reaches sexual maturity between the ages of 2 and 7 years. However, food the most part, they are between 3 and 4 when they make the journey upriver to spawn.
  • As mentioned before, spawning may be good for the species but not for the individual, as all Chinook die after spawning. 
  • However, their bodies are good for the surrounding environment, as they are a valuable source of nutrients and minerals for the river system they died in. The carcasses of the Chinook Salmon are also vital for the survival rate of the newly hatched Chinooks. They increase the rivers’ levels of phosphorous and nitrogen, among other things, meaning they improve the living conditions of the area. 
  • Juvenile Chinooks are food for other fish such as mackerel and whiting. They also get eaten by birds.
  • Adult Chinook Salmon are eaten by marine animals, including orcas, sea lions, and sharks.
  • The Chinook Salmon have a reddish-pink-colored tint to their meat, or even in some cases orange.

Top Chinook Salmon Fishing Lures and Tips

First of all, the best time to catch Chinook varies. The further north you are, the earlier in the year you can catch them, sometimes you can be lucky in June. However, in Washington state, for example, the best time is September through to November.

Back trolling Plugs 

You need to get on that boat and either anchor your boat down in a run or hole or back troll slowly down the stretch of water. You will have to use your wits to judge the situation accordingly, and back trolling requires a lot of skill to ensure the plugs are steady in the water. Once you have made your choice, use a plug such as a Kwikfish, Flatfish or Maglip. You can then wait for the Chinook to come to you. These plugs are popular because they tend to catch the eyes of the Chinook. The plug acts naturally diving ad wriggling in the river. Some of the most successful fishermen will wrap a sliver of sardine, or sometimes a herring or anchovy, to the plug to give that realistic smell and slow the lure down.

Back bouncing

You need to ensure that your weight is not too heavy so it can back down properly and not too light. Otherwise, it will miss the Chinook sweet spot at the bottom of the river. The bait needs to slowly back down right in front of the Chinook to ensure they have enough time to see and attempt to feed.

Float Fishing

A floated braided mainline is a great way to dredge the bottom of the river as some chinook holes are as deep as 20 feet. Once the float pulls under, you can start reeling.

Other practical baiting techniques include drift fishing, plunking, twitching jigs, and rolling spinner. You will also need a rod that is around 8.5 to 10 feet long and is heavily powered. This is especially true if you are going for the larger salmon out there. 

Can you eat Chinook Salmon? 

Generally speaking, Chinook Salmon are perfectly safe to eat, provided you cook them thoroughly. This is because proper cooking techniques will kill any potentially harmful parasites that may be living in the fish. The Chinook Salmon actually contains the highest fat content compared to their other Pacific salmon counterparts and does make for a very succulent meal. It has a rich buttery taste and is a lot softer than other types of salmon. A great way to prepare a Chinook is to make a barbecued steak. Lightly salt and pepper the cut, and then drizzle it with lemon juice. This method ensures you get a good cross-section of Chinook meat, including the belly meat, which is typically seen as the very best part. Another popular way of cooking the Chinook is by grilling it or slow cooking it. You can marinate it in soy sauce, or Worcester sauce, or even honey for at least 20 minutes before grilling on medium-low heat. 

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