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Salmon Identification Guide

Here's a detailed guide to identifying various salmon species in both their ocean and spawning phases:

Ocean Phase

Chinook Salmon

  • Large black spots on back, dorsal fin, and both upper and lower lobes of the tail.
  • Black mouth with a black gum line and large prominent teeth.
  • Silver pigment on the tail.

Coho Salmon

  • Black spots on back with spots only on the upper portion of the tail.
  • White mouth with a white gum line, a dark tongue, and medium-sized teeth.
  • Silver pigment on the tail.

Chum Salmon

  • No prominent spots on back or tail (small speckles may be present).
  • White mouth with a white gum line, a dark tongue, and well-developed teeth.
  • Calico markings (vertical bars), but faint on bright fish.
  • Silver pigment on the tail.

Pink Salmon

  • Generally large black spots on back and heavy oval-shaped black blotches on both lobes of the tail.
  • White mouth with a black gum line and tongue.
  • Very small scales.
  • No silver pigment on the tail.
  • Few if any teeth present.

Sockeye Salmon

  • No prominent spots on back or tail (small speckles may be present).
  • White mouth with a white gum line, a dark tongue, and almost toothless.
  • Prominent gold-colored eyes.
  • No silver pigment on the tail.
  • Small teeth.

Spawning Phase

Chinook Salmon

  • Turn from silvery bright ocean coloration to a darker bronze color.
  • Large spots on the back and both lobes of the tail.
  • Black mouth with a black to grey gum line.

Coho Salmon

  • Greenish-black head with a red to maroon colored body.
  • Spots on the back and only upper lobe of the tail.
  • Black mouth with a white gum line.
  • Male coho display brighter coloration and have a more pronounced elongated hooked snout.

Chum Salmon

  • Display characteristic olive-green vertical markings on the sides of the body.
  • No spots on the back or tail.
  • Male chum salmon develop a more elongated snout with large canine-like teeth and reddish-purple vertical markings.

Pink Salmon

  • Majority return on odd-numbered years.
  • Large oblong spots on the back and both lobes of the tail.
  • Transform from silvery bright ocean coloration to a duller and darker color.
  • Males develop a pronounced hump as they approach spawning.

Sockeye Salmon

  • Turn brick red to scarlet red along their body with a greenish head.
  • No distinct spots on the back or tail.
  • Found spawning in lakes, streams, and rivers.

Atlantic Salmon

  • Large black spots on gill covers and back, rarely any spots on tail fin.
  • Large scales, no red stripe along lateral line, 8-10 anal fin rays.
  • Regulations apply based on location and season, including marine waters and anadromous freshwater.
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