Types of Salmon: Info For Anglers On All Species

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Many anglers find it important to understand as much as they possibly can about the fish they’re catching. Whether it’s for eating or learning spawning patterns, the more one knows about their target, the better they’ll understand fish behavior. Salmon, a species with over 10 different types, is a fish held in high regard within the fishing community. Whether you’re targeting Pacific salmon or Atlantic salmon, you’ll quickly learn that they’re a fascinating fish with a rare lifestyle.

How Many Types of Salmon Are There?

Fly anglers are likely familiar with the six main types of salmon: King Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Chum Salmon, Coho Salmon, Pink Salmon and Atlantic Salmon. These are the primary targets for fishermen and women.

There are also five lesser known types of salmon that are found all across the world: Danube Salmon, Siberian Salmon, Black Sea Salmon, Cherry Salmon and Adriatic Salmon. These sub-species are not nearly as common as the main six, but they still have decent populations!

King Salmon or Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

The Chinook salmon is the largest and have been known to grow upwards of 100 pounds and 5 feet long.

Main Features and Appearance

The King Salmon, also known as a chinook salmon, is the largest of the salmon species. Also, in terms of salmon filets, many anglers will argue that they’re the best. They have been known to grow upwards of 100 pounds and 5 feet long. Like many of the other salmon subspecies, the king changes its appearances after it finishes spawning. They turn a dark color red. Also, after they spawn, you’ll see that the males develop more of a hooked mouth.

Distribution

You’ll primarily find these fish in the northern Pacific Ocean. At one point, these fish had a large population in California. Now, anglers will primarily find them in Alaskan waters. King salmon are also found in the waters around Japan and Russia. If you find yourself in the midwestern United States, these fish live in the Great Lakes! Each year, a nice population of these fish travel into the surrounding rivers and streams to spawn.

World Record King Salmon

The world record King Salmon was 126 pounds! It was caught in a fish trap in Petersburg, Alaska in 1949. The largest all tackle King Salmon was caught in 1985 in Soldotna, Alaska by a man named Les Anderson. It was a 97 pound 4 ounce monster pulled out of the Kenai River. It was almost 5 feet long and the girth was 38 inches.

Sockeye Salmon (Onchorhynchus nerka)

The sockeye also called red or blueback salmon is among the smaller of the Pacific salmon species.

Main Features and Appearance

In terms of size, the Sockeye Salmon is one of the smaller Pacific Salmon. Often, they’re between 5 and 9 pounds and somewhere around 2 feet long! When Sockeye Salmon are pre-spawn, they have silver blanks and a dark blue top of their body. Also, you’ll see that they have black speckles. Spawning sockeye salmon develop a bright red body and green head. Anglers in Alaska will call these fish red salmon. The males develop a large hump on their back and a hooked jaw like many other spawning male salmon. Anglers will also call them humpback salmon!

Distribution

These fish are found from Oregon all the way to the Northwest Alaska. They’re married to the west coast of the United States! Landlocked Sockeye salmon are known as Kokanee salmon. Kokanee salmon are found all over the United States and they have similar features. They’ll spawn in freshwater systems, but they often don’t grow as large as sea run Sockeye salmon.

World Record Sockeye Salmon

The world record sockeye salmon is 15 pounds! A man named Stan Roach landed it in the Kenai River in Alaska. Again, these fish don’t grow overly large, so any double digit Sockeye Salmon is an absolute monster!

Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)

Chum salmon look like creatures you would find deep in the ocean.

Main Features and Appearance

Chum Salmon are on the larger side of of the salmon species. When these fish are in the ocean, they’re metallic with black specks. These are similar to sockeye and coho salmon! When they enter freshwater to spawn, they develop a tiger stripe pattern or both black and red. The males also develop massive fangs! They look like creatures you would find deep in the ocean. You’ll find that Chum salmon grow up to three feet and have an average weight of 8 to 15 pounds.

Distribution

Chum salmon are found all the way from Oregon to the Arctic coast in Canada! Also, Chum salmon have a nice population in Asia. Anglers have the most success landing these fish in Alaskan waters.

World Record

The world record Chum Salmon was caught in July 11, 1995. It weighed in at 35 pounds! It was caught in British Columbia in Edye Pass. Even though they’re the second largest Pacific Salmon, they pale in comparison to the King Salmon.

Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)

A coho, also called silver salmon, has a lighter pigment on its almost black set of gums.

Main Features and Appearance

Coho salmon have a dark blue color with a green hue on the back and quite a few small black dots. Also, if you look at the gemlike of the lower jaw, you’ll be able to tell the difference between a coho salmon and a Chinook salmon. A coho, also called silver salmon, has a lighter pigment on its gums compared to a chinook salmon. The chinook salmon has an almost black set of gums. They’re hard to miss once you take a close look.

On average, you’ll find Coho Salmon weighing between 8 and 12 pounds and are somewhere between 24 and 30 inches long!

When Coho salmon spawn, the males develop bright red sides and green backs/heads. Their jaws will become more hooked and teeth become sharper like many other salmon! Many novice anglers will find themselves wondering about the difference between a chinook and a coho, but compared to other wild caught salmon, they’re quite unique.

Distribution

Most anglers will find Coho salmon on the west coast of the United States. California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska all have nice populations of Coho salmon. You’ll also find them all along the coast of British Columbia. If you’re a midwest angler, you’ll find Coho salmon in all of the Great Lakes! They’re one of the more popular salmon species in North America!

World Record Coho Salmon

The world record coho salmon was caught in the United States! The Salmon River in New York produced the world record in 1989. Jerry Lifton pulled out a 33 pound beast! Most anglers are happy with a low double digit fish, so a 33 pound monster is unheard of!

Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)

The male pink salmon will turn a dark brown color and have a bright white belly and will develop a large hump and classic hook jaws that most salmon have.

Main Features and Appearance

The pink salmon is the smallest of the pacific salmon species. On average, anglers will find them somewhere between 3.5 and 5 pounds! They don’t grow overly long; most are around 20 inches. Pink salmon also have the highest population of Pacific salmon. When the adults are pre-spawn and in the ocean or Great Lakes, they are completely silver with a small bit of a pink hue.

As they enter the spawning grounds, they’ll develop black spots all over their body and tail. The males will turn a dark brown color and have a bright white belly. Also, they will develop a large hump and the classic hook jaws that most salmon have. The females share the same white belly, but turn a dark green with lavender or gold spots. It’s a fascinating looking fish!

Distribution

Most pink salmon are found along the Pacific rim in Asia and North America. North American anglers have the most success with them in Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. They are found throughout Oregon and California, but the populations are very small. The Great Lakes has a healthy population of pink salmon, but the most prevalent numbers are in Lake Superior.

For International anglers, Russia and Japan are the best places and have the highest population!

World Record Pink Salmon

The world record pink salmon was caught in Monroe, Washington! It weighed in at 14 pounds, 13 ounces. Alexander Minerich caught it on a spinning rod while using a spoon! He was only nine-years-old when he landed it!

Atlantic Salmon (Salmo Salar)

When spawning, Atlantic Salmon develop dark stripes and bright red spots and they look far unhealthier than they do before they enter freshwater!

Main Features and Appearance

The Atlantic Salmon has a sleek, silver body with dark spots all along the body and the fins. They’re upwards of 2 or 3 feet long and on average they’re 8 to 12 pounds. Their small head, blunt nose and gape of the mouth are easily identifiable when looking at the Atlantic salmon. They also have an adipose fine near their tale that’s common amongst all trout.

When Atlantic salmon spawn, they develop dark stripes and bright red spots. They become slimier and generally look far unhealthier than they do before they enter freshwater! The most unique feature of Atlantic salmon is that they return to the ocean after they spawn! These are known as kelts. Not every Atlantic salmon will do it, but a decent amount of them will.

Distribution

Sadly, the damming of rivers and overfishing almost completely eradicated the Atlantic Salmon species. The Atlantic Salmon fisheries closed in 1948 and recreational fishing for wild sea-run Atlantic Salmon is prohibited in the Unites States. Farm raised atlantic salmon are what people are eating!

If you’re looking to fish for Atlantic Salmon, you’ll find them in Russia, Iceland, Norway, Ireland and even parts of Eastern Canada.

World Record Atlantic Salmon

The world record Atlantic salmon was caught in Scotland in 1960 in the estuary of the River Hope. The fish weighed in at 109 pounds! The world record Atlantic Salmon on a fly rod is 74 pounds. It was caught in Norway in 1921.

Other Types of Salmon

Huchen or Danube Salmon (Hucho Hucho)

The main factor that separates these fish from other salmon species is the size of their head!

The Danube Salmon is a salmon found in Europe in countries like Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. The Danube Salmon can grow absolutely massive. The record is over 100 pounds and they can be almost 5 feet long! On average, however, you’ll find that they’re somewhere in the 30 to 35 inch range weighing in around 12 pounds.

The main factor that separates these fish from other salmon species is the size of their head! It has a slender bod, but the head is longer and wider than other species. Their backs are reddish brown and also have an x or crescent shape!

Siberian Salmon or Taimen (Hucho taimen)

The Serbian Salmon is found in rivers in Russia and adjacent regions. Those regions include countries like Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China! These fish are an olive green color on the head and that turns to more of a reddish brown near the tail. On it’s belly, you’ll find a bright white or grey color depending on the age.

The Siberian salmon is the largest of the salmon species! They’re a bit larger than the Chinook Salmon. On average, these fish will weigh somewhere between 33 and 66 pounds! They’re around 35 to 40 inches length! The supposed world record was caught in 1943. It was 83 inches long and weighed 231 pounds! Like many other salmon populations, the Siberian salmon numbers are diminishing fairly quickly. Conservation efforts are put in place and catch-and-release is a requirement anywhere you’re able to find these fish.

Black Sea Salmon (Salmo Labrax)

These fish have a white/tan colored body with black spots and they have more of a silver hue than brown trout.

The Black Sea Salmon is a fairly small species of salmon compared to many other types of salmon. On average, they’re only around 20 inches and weigh around 7 pounds. You’ll rarely find them over 30 inches long. Most anglers who catch them compare them closely to brown trout. They live in the northern Black Sea and are anadromous like all other salmon species.

The female Black Sea salmon are actually able to produce two different types of offspring: resident and anadromous. Depending on the female, they will lay eggs both in the saltwater and in the freshwater. The males will protect both sets of these eggs.

These fish have a white/tan colored body with black spots. They have more of a silver hue than brown trout, otherwise it would be fairly difficult to tell the difference between the two.

Cherry Salmon (oncorhynchus masu)

The Cherry Salmon is also known as the Cherry Trout in Japan. You’ll find them in Russia, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. When they reach sexual maturity, Cherry salmon have a darkened back and the sides of their body become bright red. They always have one stripe of the silver color left after the spawn, but their bright colors are what give them the name.

On average, the adults will weigh around 4 pounds and get to 20 inches long! Catching one of these fish isn’t easy! The populations have been hit drastically due to the damming of rivers and the overfishing that occurs. The large migrations are no more! Japan’s natural resources have dwindled and had to be reestablished over the years.

Adriatic Salmon (salmo obtusirostris)

Adriatic Salmon fish is an odd-looking fish, and quite rare, but still able to be caught to this day.

The Adriatic Salmon is found in four drainages of the Adriatic Sea. You’ll find them in Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Montenegro. These fish have a small mouth, elongated snout and a high body depth. Mainly, you’ll find that these fish are green with red and black dots! They’re an odd-looking fish, and quite rare, but still able to be caught to this day. Like most other salmon species, the impacts of dams on their population are significant. Conservation efforts aren’t necessarily in place to keep this species of fish around, so we don’t know how long the Adriatic Salmon is going to be able to be caught!

Types of Salmon FAQs

What Is the Biggest Salmon Species?

Technically, the biggest salmon species is the Siberian Salmon. These fish are all found in Europe! These fish weigh in somewhere between 30 and 60 pounds on average! In North America, the Chinook or the King Salmon are the largest species that you’re going to be able to find. On average, the King Salmon is somewhere between 15 and 25 pounds and 40 inches long. They’re quite a bit smaller than the Siberian salmon!

What Is the Smallest Salmon Species?

The smallest salmon species found in North America is the pink salmon. Pink salmon are usually between 3 and 5 pounds and around 20 inches in length. Internationally, the Black Sea Salmon or Adriatic Salmon are the smallest. These are similar to the size of a pink salmon.

What Is the Most Common Type of Salmon?

The most common Pacific salmon is the Pink Salmon! You’ll find populations of these in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. Alaska has a massive population of these fish that are caught every single year. You’ll also find pink salmon in all of the Great Lakes. These fish find freshwater streams and rivers every single year to spawn. Lake Superior has the highest population of pink salmon of all the Great Lakes.
Atlantic Salmon are the lowest populated type of salmon in North America. These fish were overfished on the East Coast and the population is now heavily protected. In Europe, the populations are also low, but you are able to target these fish.

What Is the Best Type of Salmon to Eat?

If you ask most chefs and anglers, you’ll hear that King Salmon are the best to eat. Yes, they’re also the second largest salmon, but they also taste the best. Their extra size means that they have a higher fat content. As a result, you’re going to find rich flesh that tastes extremely good almost any way you prepare it. Generally, most Pacific salmon taste great. Make sure you aren’t trying to eat post-spawn salmon since their meat is going to spoil as they eventually die.
Atlantic salmon are fairly calorie dense, so if you aren’t wanting a whole tone of calories, stay away from them.

Can Salmon and Trout Crossbreed?

Salmon and trout are fairly close together genetically! As a result, you’ll find a decent amount of hybrid species of salmon. It’s rare, so less than 1 percent of salmon offspring are hybrid, but it is definitely possible. You’ll find that they’ll mate with both brown trout and rainbow trout depending on where you are finding these fish in the world! The offspring of these fish are definitely fascinating to look at.

Are salmon a healthy food to eat?

Salmon are an extremely healthy fish to eat. You’ll find that they’re high in selenium. This is great for reproductive health, thyroid hormone metabolism and even DNA synthesis. You’ll also find that salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These acids are great to help you with brain health and can even bring down inflammation. Combine these factors with the impressive amount of protein, and you’re in for a great meal. Grill it, smoke it or sear it and you’re going to love how it tastes.

Is salmon a sustainable food source?

Salmon is a sustainable food source. Whether you’re eating wild salmon or farmed salmon, you’ll find that it’s healthy and is a great option for your meals. Salmon farming continues to evolve and get even healthier and better over time, so as long as it’s done well, salmon will continue to be a sustainable food source for years to come.

What Species Are Farmed Salmon?

The majority of farmed salmon are Atlantic salmon. Since their population levels are so low, the production of farmed salmon is Atlantic. You’ll also find farmed populations of coho and chinook! Odds are, however, the farmed salmon you’re eating is Atlantic salmon. Most statistics say 90 percent of farmed salmon is Atlantic.

Can Farmed Salmon Breed with Wild Salmon?

Yes, it is possible for farmed salmon to breed with wild salmon. However, most scientists would argue that the farmed salmon should be sterilized in case anything did go wrong it could fully impact an entire population of wild salmon.

Conclusion

Salmon are an absolutely necessary species of fish! Whether you’re a die hard angler or a connoisseur of these fish, we need them! With the years of overfishing and building of dams, the populations are suffering. Thankfully, recent conservation efforts have led to the leveling off of salmon populations and even slight increases in certain situations. It’s important to be well-versed in all things salmon if you choose to fish for them!

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AUTHOR
Danny Mooers is a passionate fly fishing and angling writer from Arizona. Danny loves sharing his passion for fly fishing for trout and other species through his work for Tackle Village.