There are five species of Pacific salmon. Some are abundant in Oregon; others make a much more limited appearance.

a group of coho with their spawning coloration swim together

Types of Salmon

A person on a boat holds up a Chinook salmon

Chinook salmon

Features: While in the ocean, Chinook salmon often have a purple hue to their backs with silvery sides and bellies, large oblong black spots on the back, and round black spots on both lobes of the tail (note that tail spotting may be obscured in ocean fish by “silver” in the tail). Upon returning to freshwater to spawn, Chinook darken in color and develop red on their bellies and fins. A key identifier is the black gum line on the lower jaw with dark colors both inside and outside of the gum line. Spawning generally occurs from August to early November for spring Chinook and from October to early March for fall Chinook.

Habitat: Juvenile Chinook will stay in freshwater for the first few months to couple of years of their lives. Afterwards, they will migrate to the Pacific to feed and grow to a size where they can make the trip back inland to spawn in their natal streams. They require clean, well-oxygenated freshwater to spawn. All adults die within two weeks after spawning.

Technique: Chinook can be caught by anglers both on boats and on shore. Using spinners or baiting with shrimp or anchovies is a safe bet in rivers. When fishing the ocean going deep with spoons, imitation squid or a whole herring or anchovy behind an attractor such as a dodger is usually the most productive method.

a fly-fisher holds a chum salmon out of the water. The fish is green and red with a hooke snout indicating it is a spawning male

Chum salmon

Features: When in the ocean chum salmon are bluish green on their backs. Their tails lack spots but tend to have silver streaks like the coho. Their lower jaw will be dark at the gum line and white or pink both inside and outside of the gum line. Once in freshwater, chums become dark green to brown with red to purple marks going vertically down their sides.

Habitat: Like other salmon species, chum spend most of their lives at sea and return to their natal streams to spawn. Most spawning runs are over a short distance. Adults are strong swimmers, but poor jumpers and are restricted to spawning areas below barriers, including minor barriers that are easily passed by other kinds of salmon. Juveniles are intolerant of prolonged exposure to fresh water and migrate to estuarine waters promptly after emergence.

Techniques: Good chum fishing techniques include drift fishing, spoon fishing and bobber/jig fishing. The Kilchis and Miami rivers are open to catch-and-release chum fishing from Sept. 16 to Nov. 15. Chum salmon are rarely encountered by ocean anglers.


Two people standing on a boat each hold a large silver coho salmon

Coho salmon

Features: When in the ocean coho salmon can look very similar to Chinook salmon. However, coho will have a white gum line on the lower jaw with darker color both inside and outside of the gum line, and will only have spots on the upper lobe of their tails. When coho return to freshwater they become red on their sides and dark greenish on their backs, heads, and fins. Coho adults may reach 25 pounds or more, but rarely exceed 15 pounds.

Habitat: Small, relatively low-gradient tributary streams with pea to orange-sized gravel for spawning and juvenile rearing. Coho may use lakes for rearing when they are available. They also prefer complex, in-stream structure like woody debris and tree-lined banks.

Technique: Drift fishing is a common technique for coho when in freshwater. Here, it is ideal for your bait to bounce off the bottom, moving at the same speed as the current. A similar technique to use is plunking, in which a spoon or spinner is cast but instead of drifting with the current, anchors in one spot where a fish is likely to happen across it. When fishing for coho in the ocean, anglers often have the best luck trolling within 15 feet of the surface using a spoon or artificial squid tipped with a piece of herring or anchovy. As a general rule, trolling at 3-5 mph produces better results, and a dodger or flasher in front of an artificial squid often increases success.

two kokanee salmon swim side-by-side over a rocky river bottom. There are bubbles in the water from turbulence.

Kokanee salmon

Features: Kokanee are silvery in color until they are ready to spawn, at which time they become reddish. They do not grow as large as sockeye- their ocean traversing siblings. They can vary significantly in size depending on how densely populated the waterbody is. Since they are filter feeders, their populations can quickly expand and contract with the availability of food. 

Habitat: Kokanee can be found at all depths of cold, clear lakes and reservoirs in several parts of the state. They will change which depth they are at depending on water temperature.  

Technique: They are a challenging fish to catch as they eat mostly zooplankton, but they will take both flies and lures. Once caught, they make great table fare.

Three pink salmon swim over a gravel bottom. Two of the salmon are males and have large humps on their backs.

Pink salmon

Features: These fish are silver when young, but darken and develop black spots on their tails and backs as they age. In fresh water, the males are red on their sides and develop a hump on their backs earning this species the common name humpback salmon. Females in fresh water are green on the sides with dark bars. Pink salmon are an average of 20- to 25-inches long and rarely weigh over 5 pounds. 

Habitat: Pink salmon spawn on odd numbered years and do so very close to saltwater, never going very far upriver. In fact, some pink salmon will spawn in inter-tidal zones. They require gravel to spawn, so too much silt caused by dredging or erosion can cause problems for pinks. 

Techniques: Pink salmon can be caught using small spinners, spoons, and fly tackle. However, in Oregon they are almost always encountered while fishing for other salmon.


Sockeye salmon

Features: Before spawning, sockeye salmon are silvery on their sides, white on their bellies, and dark blue on their backs. When spawning, their heads turn green with black on the snout and upper jaw, and their bodies turn red. They can be 24- to 33- inches long and weight between 5 and 15 pounds. 

Habitat: Many sockeye populations require a lake for part of their life cycle. Spawning may occur along lake shorelines or in stream gravels, but fry usually migrate to lake environments soon after emergence and occupy this habitat during their stay in fresh water. 

Technique: Sockeye salmon can be caught using small spinners, spoons, and fly tackle. Some years a sockeye season will open on the Columbia River during the summer. Most fish are caught while fishing for other salmon.