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Chinook Salmon: The King of Salmon

chinook salmon species

Chinook Salmon, also known as King Salmon or Spring Salmon, are found on the United States’ Pacific coast, including Alaska. While Chinook Salmon is a popular commercial fishing choice, some species are protected or threatened lists for endangered species. 


Chinook Salmon are both fresh and saltwater fish. While they are native to the Pacific waters off the western coast of the United States extending up to Alaska, they are also in rivers throughout northern Japan and Arctic Siberia. 


Due to their popularity among sport and commercial fishermen and their adaptability to multiple environments, Chinook Salmon is also now stocked in the great lakes region of the United States and areas of New Zealand and Chile.


Species Description

These are silver on the sides with highlights of varying colors on the head’s back and top. Blue-green coloring is the most common among Chinook Salmon, but some exhibit other colors like purple or red.


fisherman releasing a salmon


How to Identify Chinook Salmon

Chinook Salmon has two unique features across all varieties and in both fresh and saltwater types. The first is the combination of black and silver spots on the tail, other types of salmon may have one or the other, but these Pacific salmon tend to have both.

The second distinctive feature is a black gum line found in both fresh and saltwater Chinook Salmon.


World Record

These fish are the largest of all Pacific Salmon, averaging 37 pounds with the current sport-caught record weight of 97.25 pounds. The commercial-caught record tops that number by an additional thirty pounds coming in at 126 pounds.



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History of Chinook Salmon

A large population of Native American people known as the Chinook settled at the lower Columbia River’s mouth and survived on a healthy supply of salmon. This is in the pacific northwest region of what is now known as the border between Washington state and Oregon state. 

The Chinook people thrived in this area for at least 9000 years before explorers came to the area, discovering this rich food source. The plentiful supply, large size, and pleasing taste of Chinook Salmon have helped it endure as a prominent food source from ancient Native American settlements to the large commercial fishing operation that it is today. 

While reserves in many areas are healthy and well managed by governmental agencies like NOAA, over fishing and ocean conditions continue to threaten the species’ livelihood.


Life cycle

salmon fry and eggs

Chinook Salmon are naturally anadromous, meaning that they hatch in freshwater and then migrate to saltwater to feed and grow. These fish often spend a few years maturing in the ocean and then return to freshwater streams to spawn, completing their lifecycle. 

After death, the carcass contributes nitrogen and phosphorus to the marine ecosystem, benefiting both newly hatched salmon populations and other inhabitants.



Chinook Salmon are readily adaptable to both saltwater and freshwater environments. In natural marine ecology, these fish lay their eggs in rock beds at the bottom of freshwater streams. The baby salmon stay in the stream, feeding on insects and crustaceans before moving back into the ocean. 

Managed populations live their entire lives in freshwater sources like lakes or streams. However, they will move from shallow to deep water, depending on temperatures.


school of salmon



Young Chinook Salmon feed on insects, small amphipods, and other crustaceans. As they get older (and larger), most species move on to feeding solely on a diet of other fish.



Young Chinook Salmon are prey for larger fish like Mackerel) and birds. Larger Chinook Salmon are prey for various marine mammals like sea lions, sharks, and whales. The biggest threat to Chinook Salmon is the Southern Resident Killer Whale, currently an endangered species that exists primarily on a Chinook Salmon diet.


In addition to natural threats, Chinook Salmon populations are at risk due to several conservation factors like climate change affecting water temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise. And natural disasters like storms, floods, and even forest fires that contribute to erosion.


hook jaw king salmon


Fishing for Chinook Salmon

Fishing for Chinook Salmon is an exciting task for any sport angler to tackle. Their size alone makes them an impressive and valuable catch. While these fish are native to the Pacific Northwest, successful fishing depends on knowing whether you are fishing a natural environment or a stocked environment.


Where to Catch Chinook Salmon

In natural environments, Chinook Salmon are sea-run fish and only return to freshwater streams in the spring and summer. However, in stocked environments like lakes and some rivers, these fish are widely available year-round.


Like many other fish species, fishing at dusk or dawn when these fish are most active will yield the best turnout. Additionally, fishing in cooler months may produce higher quality fish as these salmon become sedentary in the warmer months.


chinook salmon jumping


How to Catch Chinook Salmon

These fish are sizable, averaging around 40 pounds. A medium-sized spinning rod and reel will provide the minimum speed and strength needed to accomplish the task. These salmon adapt well to a variety of natural bait, including minnows, worms, and yabbies. 

The hook will depend on the bait, but a minimum of a long shank hook is necessary. If you opt for a lure, choose something that mimics a natural bait for the best results.


How to Eat Chinook Salmon

grilled chinook salmon


King Salmon are tasty and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, it is low in calories, saturated fat, and high in protein. Salmon is also full of other beneficial nutrients like vitamin B12, potassium, iron, and vitamin D. The long list of nutritional benefits make Chinook Salmon a widely popular commercial fish.


Fish is pretty adaptable to most cooking methods. The most popular are grilling or baking the salmon filet and pairing it with aromatic glazes and sauces, including ginger, garlic, soy, honey, and citrus. The fish’s meat is the most common meal use, but the oil is also available as a food additive or dietary supplement.


The Takeaway on Chinook Salmon

Chinook Salmon are the largest Pacific salmon currently fished. While many species are healthy and actively fished for commercial and sport purposes, some are endangered or threatened. Fishermen should be knowledgeable about the species for responsible fishing practices. 

The good news is that this popular fish is artificially managed and stocked in many locations, which increases the availability of sport fishermen.


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