How-to Remember Five Species of Salmon

Remembering the five species of Pacific salmon is as easy as counting the fingers on your hand.

Start with your thumb, which rhymes with chum. Chum, which is also called “dog salmon” is very good smoked. The late fall chum run is one of the reasons the eagles come by the thousands to the Chilkat River in November.

Chum salmon’s nickname, dog salmon, is derived from the look of the bottom teeth, which resemble canine teeth as the fish mature.

Next is your index finger, which we’ll use to stand for sockeye. Sockeye are prized for their deep, rich colour and excellent flavour. They are wonderful when smoked. In some communities, sockeye is deemed to be the only salmon worth eating. Period. Our American neighbours call them “reds” because of the deep red colour they turn as they spawn. 

Sockeye stop feeding when they enter fresh water. To catch them without a net, a technique called flossing is used. Flossing involves passing a hook through the open mouth of the salmon as they wait to move upstream.

Now, your middle finger, no, don’t hold it that way, stands for the biggest salmon: the chinook, also known as spring salmon, and by our American neighbours it’s known as king salmon. The world record for a chinook salmon, caught and released on the Skeena River In northern BC, was 99.1 pounds. A “tyee” is a chinook salmon that weighs 30 pounds or more.

The next largest finger, is the ring finger and it stands for the next largest salmon, the coho. This is my favourite salmon to catch, eat, and smoke. They do not get as big as the chinooks, but they put up an aggressive fight and have more oil in the meat, which makes a very nice smoked product. In the U.S. Coho are known as “silvers”.

Lastly, you have the pinky finger, which stands for pink salmon, which are also known as “humpies” because of the the large hump that develops on the backs of the males as they reach the end of their lives. There is nothing wrong with a fresh pink salmon on the barbecue.

If you make a fist like you were going to fight someone, your closed fist would represent the steelhead. Steelhead are revered as the strongest fighting fish, pound for pound of any fish in North America. Although steelhead are related to salmon, the major difference is that steelhead can often return to spawn more than once. Like salmon they are born in fresh water, go to the ocean for four or more years, and return with an attitude.

Steelhead caught in the U.S. must be a minimum of 36 inches long. This would be the fish of a lifetime. As always, check the regulations.

Okay, stop looking at your hand. Tight Lines.

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