The 5 Types of Pacific Salmon in British Columbia Waters
With so many species of fish to fish for in BC waters, there is something to catch at practically any time of the year. One of the most popular fish that draws anglers to our region is salmon. You’ll find this post on the different types of salmon helpful if you’re planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest, or if you are a local who just wants to freshen up on your familiarity of the 5 main types of Pacific salmon in British Columbia.
What Makes a Salmon a Salmon?
It’s no secret that British Columbia is best known for our salmon fishing, both freshwater and saltwater. So, what makes a salmon, a salmon? The name “salmon” covers several species of ray-finned fish in the Salmonidae family. (Trout, char, grayling, and whitefish are also in the Salmonidae family and will be covered in a future post).
Pacific salmon are anadromous, which means they are born in freshwater streams, then migrate to the ocean for most of their lives before returning to the same freshwater stream in which they were born, to reproduce (spawn). Pacific salmon are also semelparous, which means they die after reproduction and become a food source for other life forms in BC’s coastal ecosystems.
There are 5 Pacific salmon species indigenous to the coastal waters of British Columbia. They are Chinook, Chum, Sockeye, Coho, and Pink. There are also two additional species of Pacific salmon – masu and amago – that are indigenous to Asia and cannot be found in BC. It should also be noted that Pacific salmon are distantly related to Atlantic salmon but have different amounts of chromosomes.
Chinook Salmon (also called “King” or “Spring” salmon) are the largest and rarest of the Pacific salmon, weighing upwards of 50 kg and measuring up to 40 or more inches long. Chinook that weigh over 30 lbs are called “ Tyee”. Tyee salmon are highly sought after and popular amongst anglers because they are big, strong, and taste great – especially when grilled or prepared as smoked salmon. You can identify chum by their dark mouths, black gums, and V-shaped, silver tails that are often covered in spots. Anglers are allowed to catch up to 30 chinook per year and must log each catch.
Saltwater chinook fishing is best done from your boat or yacht between May and September using baitfish like herring or anchovies. Lure casting, trolling, and float fishing are all common methods used to catch chinook, whether you are on a boat or fishing for chinook salmon from lakes and rivers as well. Use big spoons, jigs, hootchies, or spin ‘n’ glows to get started.
Chum Salmon (or “Dog” Salmon, nicknamed for their canine-like teeth) are the second largest of the Pacific salmon and are easy to spot due to each of them having a dark horizontal stripe running down each of their sides. They also have large pupils, white jaws, and a somewhat forked, spotted tail. Chum can be 20 inches long or more and weigh 10 to 30 lbs. They are strong and highly abundant, but not as tasty as the other Pacific salmon. They are best when poached or steamed to enhance texture and taste.
Chum can be caught in saltwater before October, when they start to migrate back to freshwater between October and December. Note that they are easier to catch than they are to reel in, and for this reason, a heavier rod, reel, and line are recommended. Try out various techniques like drift fishing with a float, spinning with spoons or spinners, or trolling in the ocean using hootchies.
Sockeye Salmon (or “Red” salmon) are medium-sized, silver/blue salmon that have small black speckles on their bodies. When they migrate back to their home streams, the bodies of sockeye become reddish in colour with bright green heads. They have pink gums, large eyes, and slightly forked tails without spots. Sockeye measure about 24-32 inch long and weigh around 6-18 lbs. They are delicious fish, with grilling and eating raw as sushi or as a salmon poke bowl being very popular.
Around the Vancouver Island region, sockeye salmon fishing season is usually July to early September. You will have a lot of success trolling for sockeye in the Georgia Strait and the mouth of the Fraser River using colourful hootchies or spoons.
Coho Salmon, also commonly known as “silvers” or “bluebacks” because they stay a nice chrome colour for almost their entire lives, are the most populous of the Pacific salmon. They are modestly sized, at 20-24 inches long and topping out at around about 25-30 lbs. They have white mouths and gums and a squared tail. Coho are a favourite amongst anglers because they are tasty and a tad tricky to catch with their aggressive behaviour and acrobatic skills.
Coho salmon fishing in both ocean and rivers is common. They like to hang out in kelp beds in search of smaller fish. A number of techniques can be used to target coho salmon, with trolling, spincasting, mooching, flyfishing, and barfishing all offering their own perks. Silver or copper spoons and spinners are recommended.
Pink salmon are the smallest of the five Pacific salmon, weighing in at just 4-7 lbs each. Their flesh is a nice pink colour, meaning they are aptly named. Mature male pinks have a large, humped back and large oval black spots on their backs and V-shaped tail fins. Pink salmon are the only salmon without silver in their tails.
Despite their smaller size, pinks are a popular sportfish for beginners because they readily bite at all kinds of lures and flies and are light enough for young children to have no problem reeling in. A lightweight fishing rod and line is all that is needed, as well as any type of colourful artificial lure. Pink salmon fishing season is from July to September.
For an illustrative guide to these 5 pacific salmon species, check out the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s salmon poster. All proceeds go to charity.
For more information on what other types of fish can be found in BC’s lakes, rivers, and coastlines, check out the provincial government’s list of the most common sport fish in BC.
No matter what type of salmon you set out to catch, make sure you’re aware of the freshwater and saltwater fishing regulations put forth by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
Finally, find out how to prepare any of the 5 species of Pacific salmon with these great salmon recipe suggestions.
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- 33 Different Styles of Fishing
- Guide to Cleaning Fish On Your Boat
If you need a new boat or yacht for salmon fishing in BC, Van Isle Marina has a wide range of yacht services and yachts for sale moored at our docks. We’ll also share our favourite spots for catching salmon by boat. Check out our selection online or come and see us in person. We are located at 2320 Harbour Road in Sidney, British Columbia near Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.