The Chinook salmon is the largest of all Pacific salmon, typically measuring 36 inches in length, often exceeding 30 pounds. Adults are distinguished by the black irregular spotting on the back and dorsal fins and on both lobes of the caudal or tail fin. Chinook salmon also have a black pigment along the gum line, thus the name “blackmouth” in some areas.
In the ocean, the Chinook salmon is a robust, deep-bodied fish with bluish-green coloration on the back which fades to a silvery color on the sides and white on the belly. Colors of spawning Chinook salmon in fresh water range from red to copper to deep gray, depending on location and degree of maturation. Males typically have more red coloration than females, which are typically gray. Older adult males (4-7 years) are distinguished by their “ridgeback” condition and by their hooked nose or upper jaw. Females are distinguished by a torpedo-shaped body, robust mid-section, and blunt noses. Juveniles in fresh water (fry) are recognized by well-developed parr marks which are bisected by the lateral line. Chinook salmon heading to the ocean (smolt) have bright, silver sides, and parr marks recede to mostly above the lateral line.
Adults usually weigh 8 to 12 pounds and are 24 to 30 inches long, but individuals weighing 31 pounds have been landed. Adults in salt water or newly returning to fresh water are bright silver with small black spots on the back and on the upper lobe of the tail fin. They can be distinguished from Chinook salmon by the lack of black spots on the lower lobe of the tail and by their white gums; Chinook have small black spots on both tail fin lobes and they have black gums. Spawning adults of both sexes have dark backs and heads with maroon to reddish sides.
Sockeye salmon are one of the smaller species of Pacific salmon, measuring 18 to 31inches in length and weighing 4-15 pounds. Sea-going sockeye salmon have iridescent silver flanks, a white belly, and a metallic green-blue top, giving them their “blueback” name. Some fine black speckling may occur on the back, but large spots are absent. Sockeye salmon are prized for their firm, bright-orange flesh.
As sockeye salmon return upriver to their spawning grounds, their bodies turn brilliant red and their heads take on a greenish color, hence their other common name, “red” salmon. Breeding-age males develop a humped back and hooked jaws filled with tiny, visible teeth. Juveniles, while in fresh water, have dark, oval parr marks on their sides. These parr marks are short-less than the diameter of the eye-and rarely extend below the lateral line.
Pink salmon are the smallest of the Pacific salmon found in North America weighing on average between 3.5 and 5 pounds, with an average length of 20-25 inches. As with all members of the salmon family, pink salmon are coldwater fish. They are also the most numerous Pacific salmon and have been harvested and canned commercially in Alaska since the late 1800’s. Young pink salmon are completely silver without any dark vertical bars or spots. In the ocean, adults are bright greenish-blue on top and silvery on its sides. They have very small scales and pink flesh. As adults get closer to returning to fresh water, they develop a lot of large black spots on their back and all over their tail. When pinks approach their spawning streams, males turn brown to black on their back with a bright white belly. Females have a bright white belly but turn an olive green with dusky bars or patches that can be lavender or a dark gold. By the time males enter the stream where they will spawn, they have developed a very large hump, and hooked jaws called a kype.
Chum salmon, also known as dog salmon, are the most widely distributed of all the Pacific salmon and generally occur throughout Alaska. Like most other Pacific salmon species, chum salmon spend most of their life feeding in saltwater, then return to freshwater when mature to spawn once in the fall then die. Most chum salmon populations do not travel far upstream to spawn; however, some travel up to 2,000 miles upstream to the headwaters of the Yukon River. Although generally regarded as one of the less desirable species of salmon, in Arctic, Northwestern, and Interior Alaska, chum salmon are highly prized as a traditional source of dried winter food. Since the 1980s, commercial chum salmon harvests in Alaska have more than doubled as a result of the Alaska hatchery program and increased foreign sales.
During their brief freshwater residency, chum salmon fry have 8–12 vertical, uniformly-shaped and -spaced dark bars (parr marks) typically not extending below the lateral line. Overall color is dark greenish-brown along the back and pale iridescent green below the lateral line. Since they commonly migrate to sea soon after hatching, juvenile chum salmon are usually only 1–2 inches long by the time they leave freshwater.
Ocean-stage chum salmon are metallic bluish-green along the back and above the lateral line with profuse tiny speckles often present, though not resembling the larger spots of Chinook, coho, or pink salmon. The tail is highly forked, more so than other species of Pacific salmon, and is not spotted. The tail also has silver streaks along (but not between) the fin rays. As adult chum salmon enter fresh water to spawn, both sexes’ color and appearance change dramatically. Males lose their silvery appearance and take on a dark olive to brown coloration with red to purple wavy vertical stripes. They develop a hooked snout (kype) lined with large canine-like teeth. Females become brown to grey colored with a broad dark horizontal bar running along the lateral line. Females also develop kypes and canine-like teeth, though less noticeably than males.
ADF&G’s Trophy Fish Program
Anglers have been participating since the 1960s in the ADF&G Trophy Fish Program, which gives special recognition to anglers taking fish that meet minimum weight (trophy certificates) or length standards (catch-and-release certificates) within a species. Trophy fish for both certificates must be legally caught from waters open to the public, in compliance with current ADF&G sport fishing regulations.
For catch-and-release honorary certificates, do not remove your fish from the water. Hold it just at the water’s surface while a photograph is quickly taken, then release it into the current. Minimum lengths for catch-and-release honorary certificates are listed in the table below (third column). Not applicable to all species.
Trophy Fish Certificate
Minimum weights for trophy fish certificates are listed on the table below (second column). Entries must be weighed in the presence of witnesses and a Trophy Fish Official, on a scale currently certified by the Division of Weights and Measures.
At least one witness is mandatory, as is a photograph.
|Alaska State Trophy Fish Recordholders|
|Species||Trophy Certificate Min. Weight||Catch & Release Certificate Min. Length||Recordholders|
|Arctic Char/ Dolly Varden||10 lb||30 inches||27/6||2002||Wulik River||Mike Curtiss|
|Brook Trout||3 lb||20 inches||3/4||2012||Green Lake||Kyle Kitka|
|Burbot||8 lb||N/A||24/12||1976||Lake Louise||George R. Howard|
|King salmon||(see below)||N/A||97/4||1985||Kenai River||Lester Anderson|
|Chum salmon||15 lb||N/A||32/0||1985||Caamano Point||Fredrick Thynes|
|Coho salmon||20 lb||N/A||26/0||1976||Icy Strait||Andrew Robbins|
|Cutthroat trout||3 lb||20 inches||8/6||1977||Wilson Lake||Robert Denison|
|Grayling||3 lb||18 inches||5/1||2008||Fish River||Peter Cockwill|
|Halibut||250 lb||N/A||459/0||1996||Unalaska Bay||Jack Tragis|
|Lake trout||20 lb||36 inches||47/0||1970||Clarence Lake||Daniel Thorsness|
|Lingcod||55 lb||53 inches||81/6||2002||Monty Island||Charles Curny|
|Northern pike||15 lb||40 inches||38/8||1991||Innoko River||Jack Wagner|
|Pink salmon||8 lb||N/A||12/9||1974||Moose River||Steven A. Lee|
|Rainbow/ Steelhead trout||15 lb||32 inches||42/3||1970||Bell Island||David White|
|Rockfish||18 lb||N/A||39/1||2013||Sitka||Henry Liebman|
|Sheefish||30 lb||45 inches||53/0||1986||Pah River||Lawrence E. Hudnall|
|Sockeye salmon||12 lb||N/A||16/0||1974||Kenai River||Chuck Leach|
|Whitefish||4 lb||N/A||9/0||1989||Tozitna River||Al Mathews|
|King salmon minimum weight for the Kenai River is 75 lb. For the rest of the state, it is 50 lb.|