Know Your Fish - Chum Salmon

Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)

Ocean Phase Identification Characteristics:

  • Typical silvery sides common to all Pacific salmon
  • Metallic green or blue dorsal surface
  • Some black speckling may be present on the dorsal surface
  • White tips on the ventral and anal fins
  • Faint indications of a vertical bar pattern may be visible
  • Absence of large black spots on the body or caudal fins
  • Large scales
  • Lower gum line is black
    Spawning Phase Identification


  • Body color typically olive or gray with maroon and black vertical bars
  • Males develop typical hooked snout and very large teeth
  • Actively spawning females and subdominant males can display a horizontal black stripe in place of the vertical bar pattern
  • Vertical pattern of bars along the sides
  • Dark or black ventral surfaces
  • White tips on the ventral and anal fins
  • Distinct dark vertical bars along the sides
  • No distinct black spots on back or caudal fins
  • Males are dark blue above with reddish-purple vertical markings and well developed teeth
  • Females less colorful, often with horizontal bar along sides
  • Lower gum line is black

  • Range in length from 30 to 42 inches
  • Freshwater record: 27.97 lbs, Johnny Wilson, Satsop River, Grays Harbor Co., 10/19/92
  • Saltwater record: 25.26 lbs, Fred Dockendorf, Pacific Ocean, out of Grays Harbor, Grays Harbor Co., 8/7/01

    The chum salmon's nickname "dog salmon" is not deserved, especially when you consider its fighting ability. It's a tough customer for both salt and freshwater anglers. Chum are the second-largest of the Pacific salmon, and Washington anglers catch many of them in the high-teens and low-20-pound range. They are the last of the salmon to return each fall, usually arriving at their natal stream from November to January.

    Chum salmon have the widest distribution of any of the Pacific salmon. They range south to the Sacramento River in California and the island of Kyushu in the Sea of Japan. In the north they range east in the Arctic Ocean to the Mackenzie River in Canada and west to the Lena River in Siberia.

    The chum's spawning grounds are usually in the lower tributaries along the coast and are seldom more than 100 miles inland. The eggs are deposited from December to February. The fry emerge in the spring and migrate to ocean with no hold-over residence in their spawning grounds. In their third or fourth year the chum reaches maturity, weighing from 8 to 18 pounds.

    Chum salmon are difficult to distinguish from sockeye and coho without a careful examination of their gills or caudal fin scale patterns. During the spawning phase, both males and females develop hooked noses and large canine-like teeth (one of the reasons for the "dog salmon" nickname), although the male's characteristics are much more pronounced. They also have distinct dark vertical bars along their sides.

    Chum do not have a period of freshwater residence after emergence of the fry as do chinook, coho, and sockeye salmon. Chums are similar to pink salmon in this respect, except that chum fry do not move out into the ocean in the spring as quickly as pink fry. Chum fry feed on small insects in the stream and estuary before forming into schools in salt water where their diet usually consists of zooplankton.

    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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