Chinook (King) Salmon

Common Name: Chinook Salmon, a.k.a. King Salmon

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

Appearance: Silvery white with a black-spotted tail, Chinook have a distinctively pointed jaw, with their teeth set in a pair of black gums.

Distribution: The largest Pacific salmon species, the mighty Chinookare geatly sought-after by both sport- and commercial fishermen, to the point where it has adversely affected their numbers. With a natural range that falls roughly in a triangle anchored by Baja California, Alaska, and Japan, Chinook are also found in streams along the Pacific coastline throughout this area (though, sadly, they’ve all but disappeared from streams in the southern half of their natural range). Chinook have been introduced to the Great Lakes of North America with a good amount of success, quickly adapting to an all-freshwater life cycle (normally, Chinook only enter fresh water to spawn).

Spawning: In the Pacific, the chinook is an anadromous fish, meaning it is born in freshwater streams, migrates to sea upon reaching maturity, then returns to fresh water to spawn. After an exhausting journey along the river, a female will dig out a “redd” (nest) in a patch of gravel with her tail, then cover the eggs once a male has fertilized them. Eggs hatch after a few months of incubation, at which point the juveniles will remain in freshwater up to 18 months before heading out to sea. The new generation will return to fresh water – usually, but not always, to the location where they originally hatched – after one to five years.All Chinook -with the exception of a few younger males – die after spawning.

Angling: When fishing for salmon in deep water, it’s possible to get results using a wide variety of bait and equipment. By no means fussy eaters, Chinook will strike anything from a live herring or anchovy to cut bait to plastic or metal artificial baits.The real key is not the type of bait so much as thedepth at which the bait is presented.

Salmon start out feeding in deep water in the spring, then rise closer and closer to the surfaceup until the spawn, when the largest of them migrate to the rivers. Early in the year, try trolling with downriggers or cannonballs. In late summer, when salmon are at their most active, use plastic or metal diving planes at anywhere from ten to twenty feet deep. Another effective tactic is to use a medium-weight, fast rod and present a weighted bait with a broad, jigging motion.

Once the spawning runs begin, fly fishing is an excellent means of catching chinook. Anything shiny and quick-moving will attract a spawning chinook’s attention.