Know Your Fish - Coho Salmon

Coho Salmon Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)

Ocean Phase Identification Characteristics:

  • Typical silvery sides common to all Pacific salmon
  • Steel-blue to light green on dorsal surface
  • Small black spots above lateral line on lower dorsal and generally upper tail fin
  • White belly
  • Mouth is white or gray inside with lower gum line gray or black
    Spawning Phase Identification Characteristics:

  • Back and head dark bluish-green
  • Lower sides brilliant red to wine color
  • Gill cover reddish
  • Males develop typical hooked snout and very large teeth
    Identification Characteristics:

  • Back and head dark bluish-green
  • Lower sides brilliant red to wine color
  • Gill cover reddish
  • Spots on back and UPPER lobe of tail fin only
  • Lower gum line is light colored
    Records:
  • Range in length from 17 to 38 inches
  • Freshwater record: 25.27 lbs, Brad Wilson, Quinault River, Grays Harbor Co., 11/11/01
  • Saltwater record: 25.34 lbs, Martin Cooper, Sekiu, Clallam Co., 9/28/01

    Coho are smaller than chinook, but their relative abundance and unpredictable fighting style make them the favorite game fish of the salmon family among Washington anglers. They are also one of the most valuable commercial fish. A typical adult coho weighs 4 to 10 pounds, but specimens of over 20 pounds have been caught in the Evergreen State's waters.

    Fresh from the ocean, it's easy to understand why the coho's most common nickname is "silver" salmon. Adult coho migrate up the Washington rivers in October and November. Generally, coho spawn in streams close to the ocean, although some journey as far as 700 or 800 miles inland.

    Unlike the other salmon, coho fry remain in their natal stream for a full year after hatching and, for this reason, they are exposed more than the other species to the hazards of predation, pollution, floods, droughts, and other perils common in areas of heavy population. After living in the stream for a year, they drift down to the ocean where they feed for 12 to 18 months. Their age at maturity is normally three years.

    The same baits, lures and techniques that take chinook will also take coho from Washington's marine waters, but these fish are usually found near the surface, in about the top 30 feet of water. Like chinook, coho are also a favorite of freshwater anglers when the adult coho return to their natal streams to spawn. Flashy spinners, wobbling spoons, diving plugs and a well-fished cluster of fresh roe will take them when they hit fresh water.

    During the spawning phase, the mature male coho's upper jaw forms an elongated hooked snout and the teeth become greatly exaggerated. The spawning color of the male is generally brighter than that of the female and is characterized by the dorsal surface and head turning bluish-green. The sides of the males also develop a broad red steak. In females, the jaws also elongate but the development is not as pronounced as the males.

    For more information about Washington State's game fish you can download these PDF files: Pacific salmon identification (1446KB), trout and salmon identification (560KB), and selected game fish (2553KB). To read these files you will need the free Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader that you can obtain from Adobe's PDF Reader web page.



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