Alaska Salmon
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Alaska Salmon

Alaska has five species of Pacific salmon, all of which are taken by sport, subsistence, and commercial fishermen:

• chum (dog), valued as a food fish.
• king (also called chinook) - official state fish, known for large size
• red (sockeye), distinctive color and delicious flesh
• pink (humpback), recognized by the males' humpback
• silver (coho), known for acrobatic runs after they are hooked.

 Salmon may be served baked, broiled or grilled with butter, lemon and garlic. Smoked salmon is a delicacy, but it is also a staple. In some Western and Northern villages fish are dried on open-air racks. Canned and frozen salmon are shipped from Alaska and sold around the world. If you take the Riverboat Discovery trip, you will likely see a demonstration of how very quickly one can gut and prepare a fish for drying.

Residents and visitors crowd streams and charter boats during salmon runs. Fishing is available near almost every coastal town in the state, including those on cruise-ship itineraries. Taxidermists or local fish processors are available for packing and shipping home the catch.

All salmon are born in fresh water, then travel to salt water.  Two or more years later, they return to their home streams to spawn.  They are "anadromous fish" (from the Greek for upward (ana-) running (dromos).

A Closer Look at the Species:

King salmon (also known as chinook, quinnat, tyee, tule and blackmouth)

Average weight Sport-fishing record weight Range in Alaska
30 lbs. 97 pounds, 4 ounces From Southeast to Chukchi Sea (Northern Alaska)
This is the largest fish found in Alaska's fresh water. The hook-and-line record is 97 pounds, and the largest king ever caught was a 126-pounder was caught in 1949 in a fish trap near Petersburg in Southeast Alaska. Kings have irregular black spotting on their backs and dorsal fins and on both lobes of the tail fin. Kings also have black gums. Seagoing kings are deep-bodied fish with bluish-green coloration on their backs. Spawning kings range from red to copper to almost black. Some kings run all the way up the Yukon River into Canada.
To catch: Kings run between May and July. Best areas are Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Like all salmon, they stop feeding once they reach fresh water, but they do strike (irritation or habit?). Trolling with herring bait is preferred in salt water, and lures (spoons and spinners) as well as salmon eggs are used in fresh water.

Silver salmon (coho)

Average weight Sport-fishing record weight Range in Alaska
8- 12 pounds 26 pounds Coastal Alaska from Southeast to Point Hope on Chukchi Sea, and Yukon River to Canada.
Saltwater silvers Oncorhynchus kisutch are bright silver with small black spots on the back. Spawning males develop a prominent hooked snout with large teeth. Spawners of both sexes have dark backs and heads with sides colored maroon to reddish.
To catch: Silvers move into streams from July to November. In salt water, these acrobatic jumpers are taken by trolling or drifting with herring or by fishing along the shore with flies or lures. In fresh water, try salmon eggs, flies, spoons and spinners.

Red salmon (sockeye or blueback)

Average weight Sport-fishing
record weight
Range in Alaska
4 - 8 pounds 16 pounds Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea coasts.
Reds Onchorhynchus nerka lack the large black spots found on king, silver and pink salmon. Breeding males develop a humped back and long, hooked jaws filled with sharp, doglike teeth. Both sexes turn brilliant to dark red on the back and sides, pale to olive green on the head and upper jaw and white on the lower jaw. Sockeye flesh is the reddest of the salmon fleshes.
To catch: Catch reds in clear water by putting a fly or lure right in front of the fish. The largest runs are in the summer in Bristol Bay and Chignik Lagoon of southwestern Alaska and Southcentral's Cook Inlet (especially the Russian River), Prince William Sound and the Copper River.

Chum salmon (dog, calico)

Average weight Sport-fishing record weight Range in Alaska
7 - 18 pounds 32 pounds All of coastal Alaska.
ISeagoing chums have metallic greenish-blue backs with fine black speckles. Chums have fewer but larger gill rakers than do other salmon. Once chums reach fresh water, they develop vertical bars of green and purple, and the males develop a hooked snout and very large teeth. Canned chums are often sold outside Alaska as "silver brights."
To catch: Anglers often catch chums while fishing for other species with flies, spinners, & other lures. Chums are often smoked instead of eaten fresh.

Pink salmon (humpback)

Average weight Sport-fishing
record weight
Range in Alaska
3.5 to 4 pounds 12 pounds,
9 ounces
Coastal Alaska as far north as Kotzebue.
The pink Onchorhynchus gorbucha is nicknamed "humpback" or "humpy" because of the distinctive hump the male develops at spawning time. This species is the smallest of the five Pacific salmon species. Spawning males develop a brown or black top and white belly; females become olive green with dusky bars or patches and a white belly. Pinks are a major resource for the canning industry. Their distinctive physique makes them a favorite of artists.
To catch: Pinks develop on a two-year cycle, so some streams may have bank-to-bank pinks one year and relatively few the next year. Spinners, flies and spoons all do well.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Anchorage Daily News.

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