Salmon are one of the most intriguing fish in the world! With a life cycle of only 1-5 years, salmon feed and thrive in preparation for a single life event- spawning. Salmon are not only nutritious, but they are also vital to our eco-systems and to our way of life as Alaskans! Here we explore the top three types of salmon in Alaska that are most sought after and the fun facts about the life of a salmon!
There are five species of wild salmon within various water systems throughout Alaska. These species are known as Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Humpy’s, and Chums! With a variety of species, anglers have numerous opportunities at different styles of fishing (casting, trolling, fly-fishing) and endless locations to fish from. From Alaska’s grand oceans to rushing rivers, salmon are alive and thriving! Here, we are going to dive into the top 3 types of salmon in Alaska, so that you can be a pro at identifying your catch.
#1: King Salmon
The most popular type of salmon in Alaska that anglers seek are Chinook salmon. Also known as “king salmon” or “kings”. Not only is this specie of salmon Alaska’s state fish, they are widely known for their rich flavor and high oil content. King salmon are known to be the largest of the five types of salmon in Alaska and can range from Southeast Alaska and further north to the Yukon River and on!
Once filleted, king salmon will either have orange flesh or white flesh. While the most common you’ll see is orange flesh, white kings are a possibility and just as delicious! White king salmon originate from two rivers in Canada. During their migration, they travel down near South Central Alaska (Homer and Kenai Peninsula) to feed. If you’re looking to target white kings, the best opportunity to do so is during Homer’s winter king salmon season from October thru April. During this time, all salmon are actively feeding on herring runs and preparing for spawning!
Kings have specific features that can easily help you to identify. The most common you’ll see are spots along its back and, most importantly, on its tail. Kings also have a black mouth and gum lines.
Popular times of year to fish in Homer: Winter (October- April), May and early June, and July- September.
Average size: ranges from 15- 40 pounds
Fun Fact: The record king salmon was caught on the Kenai River in 1985 at a whopping 97 pounds!
#2: Silver Salmon
The second most sought after type of salmon in Alaska are Coho salmon. Also known as “silver salmon” or “silvers”. This specie’s is widely known and prized for its feisty demeanor and on-going fight when reeling in! In addition to being an exciting specie’s to reel in, their meat is tender and moist, making them perfect for cooking up and smoking!
Their migration places silver salmon throughout the Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea, and coastal waters of Alaska. Once they are ready for spawning, they begin to migrate up fresh water systems. A fun fact about silver salmon is that females can lay anywhere from 2,400- 4,500 eggs during their spawn!
Silvers have features that are very similar to king salmon and can be tough to distinguish at first glance. Like kings, silvers will also have a black tongue and gum line. They will also have spots that run along their backs as well. The biggest difference is that silvers will only have spots on the UPPER portion of their tail fin. Whereas, kings have spots on upper and bottom. Silver salmon did obtain their names due to their bright, silvery color! Another difference is that once they begin to spawn, males begin to develop a hook-like jaw, also known as a pronounced kype.
Popular times of year to fish in Homer: July- November.
Average size: ranges from 8-12 pounds.
Fun Fact: The record silver salmon was caught in 2011 and weighed 26 pounds!
#3: Red Salmon
The third most popular type of salmon in Alaska that anglers seek are Sockeye salmon. Also known as “red salmon” or “reds”. This specie’s is widely known for their dark red meat and and being abundant. Their meat is the most versatile for cooking and the absolute best for smoking, making this species an Alaskan favorite!
You can find reds throughout the North Pacific Ocean, Arctic oceans, and coastal waters of Alaska. You’ll find them to be most abundant within the river systems that drain into the ocean. Like silver salmon, each female can also lay between 2,000-4,500 eggs during the spawning phase.
Unlike kings and silvers, reds do not have distinctive spots on their backs or tails. They also do not have black mouths or gum lines. Their most distinctive features appear during the spawning phase where males begin to form a humped back with a hooked jaw and a bright green head along their red bodies.
Popular times of year to fish in Homer: May- August
Average size: ranges from 4-12 pounds.
When you think of all the fish in the world, nothing really compares to the life of salmon. Salmon are one of the few fish in the world to complete their life cycle after spawning, unless they are caught of course! During their life-span, adult salmon will spend their time feeding in preparation for spawning. Once they are ready to spawn, they stop feeding to conserve energy for the migration upstream and their bodies begin to morph. The spawning process is truly unique, as each female can lay anywhere from 2,000- 14,000 eggs depending on the specie of salmon!
Speaking of spawning, did you know that salmon return to their home rivers, where they once hatched, to complete their life cycle? Salmon have a keen memory that is tied to scent. As they are young and first migrating to the ocean, it’s thought that they build memory with distinct scents and smells that will eventually guide them back to where they originated from!
Lastly, and surely a fun fact, is that salmon without an adipose fin (little fin at the top between the dorsal and tail) means it was born in a hatchery and released into the wild! Yep- that’s right, the adipose fin is removed from hatchery fish to help identify them once released. So on the flip side of this, any salmon with its adipose fin is considered truly wild!
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