Overview

King Salmon / Chinook - Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

Also known as: Blackmouth, King Salmon, Quinnat, Spring Salmon, Tyee

It is a member of the Pacific salmon genus Oncorhynchus and is both largest and least abundant of this group. It is endemic to the Pacific and rarely, the Arctic Ocean as well as the Bering Sea, the Okhotsk Sea, the Sea of Japan, and most of the rivers that flow into these waters; from Hokkaido in northern Japan to the Anadyr River in the former U.S.S.R., and from the Ventura River in southern California to Point Hope, Alaska. Since as early as 1872, it has been introduced into other waters around the world including the Great Lakes, Atlantic and Gulf states of the U.S., some areas of Central and South America, Europe, and the South Pacific. These transplanted populations apparently failed due to an inability to maintain spawning levels, with the exceptions of South Island in New Zealand, and to some degree in the Great Lakes. In Chile, more recent transplants have shown hope of becoming established with some chinook returning to spawn.

Its body is typical of the Pacific salmon group (see Salmons, Trouts, and Chars). At sea, it is basically a silvery fish with spotting on the back, upper sides, top of head, and all the fins, including the tail fin. Spawning chinooks are olive brown to purplish or even red and undergo a radical metamorphosis, especially the males which develop a large kype. One way to distinguish the chinook from other species is by its black mouth and gums. The similar looking coho Oncorhynchus kisutch, has a black mouth, but white gums, except in the Great Lakes population where the gums may be gray or black.

It is the largest salmonid in North America, growing to at least 5 ft. (1.52 m) and 126 lb. (57 kg). It is an extremely important food and commercial fish, and due to its large size and game nature, an important sport fish. It is the only Pacific salmon in which the meat may be regularly either red or white, but the red meat commands a higher price.

Habitats

Schools

Baitfish and schools of larger fish can swim so close together they actually change the color of the water. Train your eyes to look for these moving patches of color, and you will be rewarded for your efforts. Cast ahead and let your bait float to the school.

Ripples, Currents, Swirls and Sprays

Call it what you will, but it might be a fish. It might be baitfish feeding. It might be baitfish trying to jump out of the water to escape game fish. Or, it might be bubbles and rings from a big fish that just went down to eat a minnow. Cast quickly, and you might get lucky.

Overhanging Trees and Bushes

Usually close to shore, these spots offer protection from the sun and above-water predators. Bigger fish rest in these areas if the water isn’t too shallow, allowing quick access to deeper water for feeding and escape.

Outsides of Bends

When the river or stream curves, the faster water (which carries the food) moves to the outside of the bend, and fish look for food in these bends. If the outside of the bend also contains a rock or fallen tree (to slow down the food-carrying current), it’s an even better place to catch fish.

Backflow (backwaters)

When the tide moves into a small inlet, or point, it slows down and moves in a different direction than the main flow for a short period of time. Fish will feed where the backwards flow slows down and the food settles.

Current Edges

A current edge is a place where natural or man-made objects slow the current. When the current slows, the food that travels with it also slows. So fish rest at current edges and wait for a nice, slow meal to come by. Current edges can be created by natural or man-made structures like bends, merging currents, drop-offs, rocks and islands.

Merging Currents - Feeder Brooks, Stream or Creek Mouths

Flowing water carries food. So when two bodies of flowing water meet, fish will find twice as much food. Plus, when currents collide, there’s a small area in the intersection where the water and food actually slow down, making merging currents an excellent place to catch fish.

Drop-Offs

When water flows over a drop-off, it slows down and sinks, taking the food it carries with it. A drop-off is a great feeding place because it has food, deeper water and it’s away from the current, allowing for a more relaxing dining experience for the fish.

Rock and Boulder Pockets

When flowing water hits rocks and boulders, it splits and goes around the obstruction, creating an area of calm water on the downstream side of the obstruction. Fish will rest, facing upstream, on the downstream side of a rock. These pockets are small, but a handy cast could land you a fish.

Undercuts

Undercuts are considered the perfect hiding spot on the river. They occur where the current has cut out a cave-like hole in earth or rock along the shore. If there’s a tree above the undercut, all the better. Undercuts provide protection from above-water predators and the sun. And easy access to deeper water for feeding or escape. The biggest, baddest river fish live in undercuts.

Dams and Falls

When water continually drops off a dam or falls, it creates a big hole or drop-off. Fish will sit at the bottom of these holes to get away from the current and to eat sinking food. Fish can get trapped in these holes if they are going upstream to find cooler water or to spawn.

Small Pointed Waves

These triangle-shaped waves form where faster water meets slower water. Like the riverside edge of a bend, bay or eddy. Large fish gather under these waves because the water slows and food drops.

Bays and Estuaries

If you’re fishing in a bay or estuary, you better have a big tackle box. These bodies of water contain a mixture of fresh water and salt water. They also contain a mixture of freshwater and saltwater fish. Bays and estuaries can be fished from shore or from a boat. Estuaries are locations in which the mouth of a river meets the ocean. Estuaries support saltwater fish such as tarpon, snook, redfish and striped bass. Other saltwater fish like shad, herring, salmon and sea-run trout can also be found in estuaries because they need to find saltier or fresher water when it’s time to mate. Freshwater fish like largemouth bass can also survive in the salty waters found in estuaries.

Weather can also affect the mix of fish in combined waters. Stormy weather pushes fresh water from the rivers closer to the ocean, causing freshwater to move farther downstream. Dry weather pushes salt water and saltwater fish further upstream into the rivers.

Rivers and Streams

In a lake or pond, fish have to move around to find food. In a river or a stream, the food comes to them. So moving-water fish find hiding places and travel anywhere from a few feet to up to several hundred feet, several times a day to eat.

You have to decide if you’re going to fish where the fish are hiding or where the fish are feeding. Either way, you’ll have to learn about river and stream feeding and hiding structure.

Hiding structure include undercuts in the banks, eddies, sunken trees and overhanging trees and bushes: places that provide protection from the current and above-water predators.

Feeding places include the outside of bends, merging currents, drop-offs, feeder brooks and springs: places where the current slows down and food collects or sinks.

In general, fish found in moving water tend to be a little smaller than lake fish. But they’re fighters, strong from battling the currents.

Bays

Ocean bays don’t have much freshwater influence. But because they are protected from severe ocean conditions, they become ideal nurseries for many species of baitfish and shell fish, which can draw bigger saltwater fish into the bays to feed.

Channel Entrances

Anywhere water is forced to move through a smaller opening, currents run faster and dig deeper into the bottom. Fish will be attracted to these places because the water is deeper and the supply of food is more concentrated in the “pinched’ area.

Man-Made Structures

It’s only natural, baitfish and other marine creatures gather around piers and pilings because they’re looking for food and protection from currents. This attracts larger game fish species like snook and tarpon that feed on the bait surrounding these structures.

Eddies

When fast moving water flows into a small inlet, or eddy, it slows down and creates a whirlpool. Fish will feed where the whirlpool is slowest or in the main body of the river where the whirlpool kicks out the food that has been carried in and out of the eddy.

Standing Waves

If you see waves on the water that look like a rollercoaster, the water is probably going over underwater rocks. Fish like to sit in the shallow part of these waves.

Anadromous

Anadromous species migrate from the seas to freshwater streams for dietary and/or reproductive needs. For this reason, anadromous fish can be found in a variety of habitats at various times of year. Specifically, these areas range from bays and estuaries to rivers and streams. Occasionally, anadromous fish can be found offshore, but not in great concentrations.

Fishing Methods

Casting

Bait casting is a style of fishing that relies on the weight of the lure to extend the line into the target area. Bait casting involves a revolving-spool reel mounted on the topside of the rod. Bait casting is definitely an acquired skill and takes some practice. Once you get the hang of the technique, you will be casting your lures right on target into the structures where fish are feeding and living. Spin casting is an ideal fishing method for beginning anglers. Spin-casting equipment is easier to use than bait casting but provides the same ability to present a lure or bait. You can use spin casting equipment to cast both light and heavy lures without tangling or breaking your line. Basic equipment includes a 7-foot rod, a spinning reel and 6­ 12 pound test line for casting 1/16- to 3/4 ounce lures. You can use an open-face, closed-face or spin-cast reel for spin casting. When sight casting to fish, always remember to cast longer or farther than needed. You can always make a long cast short, but you can never make a short cast long.

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.

Fly Fishing

With fly-fishing, various materials are used to design a very lightweight lure called a fly. A fly can serve as a ‘dry fly’ or ‘wet fly’. A dry fly will float on the water and mimic a floating insect and a wet fly will sink below the surface to mimic a swimming bait. It takes a little practice, but fly-fishing is a pure and exciting way to fish. Unlike other casting methods, fly-fishing can be thought of as a method of casting line rather than lure. Non-fly-fishing methods rely on a lure's weight to pull line from the reel during the forward motion of a cast. By design, a fly is too light to be cast on its own so it must follow the trajectory of the cast fly line, which is thicker and heavier so that it casts easier than lines used in other types of fishing (such as monofilament). The angler normally holds the fly rod in the dominant hand and manipulates the line with the other hand close to the reel, pulling line out in small increments as the energy in the line, generated from backward and forward motions, increases.

Jigging

Jigging lures, or “jigs”, are some of the most versatile lures in that can be used in just about any place you find fish. Jigs comes in all shapes, colors, styles and weights and can be fished in a variety of different manners so that they mimic baitfish. The two most common jigs are probably the bucktail jig and the vertical jig.

A bucktail jig will typically consist of a lead head, that can be a variety of different shapes and sizes, which is molded onto a hook and has hair-like material tied to the bottom of the jig head. This hair-like material is where the name “bucktail” comes from because many bucktail jigs are made using hair from a deer. The bucktail hair and jighead come in a variety of different colors. These bucktail jigs can be fished by themselves or they can be rigged with a rubber worm, live shrimp or other natural baits like strips of fish.

A vertical jig, or speed jig, is made of a long and slender piece of lead or metal that cuts through the water mimicking an injured baitfish. Vertical jigs will have one or more dangling hooks attached to a split ring which can be attached to the top or the bottom of the jig. Vertical jigs range anywhere from 1/8 oz. up to 14 oz. and are also referred to as “butterfly jigs.”

When fishing with jigs, it is important that the angler constantly jig the lure up and down by constantly lifting the rod tip up and down. A good method for jigging is to drop the jig all the way down to the bottom and with a very rapid retrieval, twitch the rod tip erratically until the jig comes to the surface and repeat. No matter which type of jig you are using, it is important to match the weight of each jig to the depth at which you are fishing. Deeper water will require heavier jigs to reach the bottom. It is also important to take the tides and current into consideration when choosing your jig weight.

Still Fishing

Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.

Trolling

Most trolling is done using a small electric motor that moves the boat quietly through the water so fish aren’t spooked. But you can also troll by towing a lure while walking along the edge of a shoreline, bridge or pier. The speed of the boat determines the depth of your bait. And the depth of the bait is determined by the species of fish you’re trying to catch. Use a spinning reel or a bait caster for trolling. Some states don’t allow motorized trolling, so check out your local fishing regulations to avoid tangling with the fish enforcers. Trolling allows you to cover a lot of water while effectively fishing an area.

Bait & Lures

Cut Bait

Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.

Freshwater Live Bait

Basically, minnows are baby fish and a good all-around freshwater bait. They're readily available from bait and tackle shops or you can catch your own if it's legal in your area. Minnows come in different sizes. Use larger 'shiners' for bass and pike fishing.

For cast and retrieve, trolling and drifting, hook the minnow vertically through both lips or through the tail.

For still fishing with a bobber, hook the minnow through the back just above the dorsal fin. Take care not to damage the spinal cord. The key is to keep the fish moving on its own.

Tricks and Tips for Minnows

For really good action, hook the minnow upside down on a light jig. It will struggle to regain an upright position

Store minnows in a minnow bucket using the same water from which they were bought or captured, and take care not to crowd them.

Plugs

Plugs have a plastic or wood body and are designed to be fished on top of the water or at depths below the surface. Top-water or floating plugs are designed to float on the surface and are great lures to use during the early morning and late evening hours when fish are actively feeding. Diving plugs have plastic or metal lips so they will dive to a certain depth. The size of the lip will determine how deep a lure will dive but the rated dive depths can often be found on the box they are packaged in. A good plug to start with will often be a similar color to the baitfish that you see swimming in the area you are fishing. For example, if you notice that there are a lot of 3 inch baitfish with silver bodies and dark green backs, look for a plug of similar size and color.

Spinner Baits

Spinners have one or more blades that spin, or revolve, around a straight wire shaft. Some spinners have tails made of soft plastic or animal hair. Spinner baits are lures with one or more blades that spin around a safety pin-type shaft. Most spinnerbaits have skirts made from animal hair, vinyl, rubber or other materials.

Spoons

Spoons are metal lures designed to look like a swimming baitfish or minnow. Many spoons are made to be cast while others are meant to be trolled behind a moving boat. Depending on where and how you're fishing, you can buy weedless, structure or trolling spoons. Ask your tackle shop which types you need.