The tale is in the tail

The five species of Pacific salmon and proper identification during the summer fishing season is always on an angler’s mind.

Many times in the past, I have seen people struggle to identify fresh salmon. Well, if you follow a few simple rules of thumb you will be a salmon expert.

Yes, the size of the salmon is something to consider first – pink and sockeye are about the same size, coho a bit larger, a chum even more so, and of course the king of all salmon, the chinook, are the largest.

But I feel the best way to identify the species is to start with the tail of the fish.

Chinook arrives in most rivers first, in particular the Kitimat River. The chinook have many spots on the tail and have a larger tail than all species.

The pink salmon arrive next, and while they also possess many spots on the tail, the spots are quite round, whereas a chinook’s are quite oval and smaller.

Next the chum arrive, and when fresh, the purple bars on its side are not as easy to see in the salt water. Once they hit the river and start to break down and change colour, the purple bars and the prominent teeth and jaw are a dead giveaway. Also, the chum have no spots on the tail.

The Kitimat River does get a run of sockeye, which are not for retention so they must be released. The sockeye also have no spots on the tail but they are quite smaller than the chum and their eyes are larger for their body size.

The last salmon to enter the river is the coho and you can be easily mislead into thinking it’s a small chinook or even a steelhead. Just remember, you cannot kill a steelhead on the Skeena system.

The coho are easily identifiable as they only have a few spots along the top of the tail, whereas chinook and steelhead possess many spots.

The regulations booklet will tell you about the tail and mouth identification – I disregard all mouth info, from black gums to white mouth.

It’s all about the tail! It tells the tale all the time.

PS – important notice – as of this week Skeena sockeye is off limits this year due to low stock.

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