Of Alaska fish, chinook salmon is the most important sport and commercial fish native to the Pacific coast of North America. It is the largest of all Pacific salmon, with weights of individual fish commonly exceeding 30 pounds.
Alaska salmon taken in a fish trap near Petersburg, Alaska in 1949 is the largest on record, 126-pounds. The chinook salmon has numerous local names. In Washington and Oregon, chinook salmon are called chinook, in British Columbia they are called spring salmon. Other names are quinnat, tyee, tule, blackmouth, and king.
Alaska salmon is abundant from the southeastern panhandle to the Yukon River. Major populations return to the Yukon, Kuskokwim, Nushagak, Susitna, Kenai, Copper, Alsek, Taku, and Stikine rivers.
Alaska king salmon feed year round in the abundant waters of Sitka Sound but the action is greatest from May through October. Sitka Alaska claims to be homeport to Alaska's best saltwater salmon fishing. Fish average 25-35 lbs., and can reach 70 lbs. or more.
Alaska chinook salmon is perhaps the most highly prized sport fish in Alaska and is extensively fished by anglers in the Southeast and Cook Inlet areas. Trolling with rigged herring is the favored method of angling in salt water, while lures and salmon eggs are used for freshwater anglers.
Alaska salmon adults are distinguished by the black irregular spotting on the back and dorsal fins and on both lobes of the caudal or tail fin. Alaska chinook salmon also have a black pigment along the gum line which gives them the name "blackmouth" in some areas.
In the ocean, the Alaska chinook salmon is a robust, deep-bodied fish with a bluish-green coloration on the back which fades to a silvery color on the sides and white on the belly. Colors of spawning chinook salmon in fresh water range from red to copper to almost black, depending on location and degree of maturation. Males are more deeply colored than the females and also are distinguished by their "ridgeback" condition and by their hooked nose or upper jaw. Juveniles in fresh water are recognized by well-developed parr marks which are bisected by the lateral line.
Like all species of Alaska Pacific salmon, chinook salmon are anadromous. They hatch in fresh water, spend part of their life in the ocean, and then spawn in fresh water. All chinooks die after spawning. Chinook salmon may become sexually mature from their second through seventh year, and as a result, fish in any spawning run may vary greatly in size. For example, a mature 3-year-old will probably weigh less than 4 pounds, while a mature 7-year-old may exceed 50 pounds. Small chinooks that mature after spending only one winter in the ocean are commonly referred to as "jacks" and are usually males. Alaska streams normally receive a single run of chinook salmon in the period from May through July.
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