Article Overview: Types of Salmon in Alaska
If Alaska had to be represented by a singular symbol, it wouldn’t be its wild landscapes, ancient glaciers, or aurora displays. While all of which are breathtaking, nothing quit evokes the states essence as well as, the mighty pacific salmon. In the frigid waters of Alaska, five distinct types of pacific salmon make up the states natural and industrial infustructure. These fish are vital to sustaining life for everyone that calls Alaska home.
In this article, we’ll dive into each type of salmon species in Alaska, examining their appearance, size, spawning season, state regulations, and the different commercial and recreational fishing methods used to catch them. We’ll cover each ones distinctive flavor, best way to cook them, and a fun trick to help remember each species. So join us as we navigate the rivers and streams of Alaska to examine the different types of salmon that swim in them.
Why Trust Us Regarding the Types of Salmon in Alaska
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My Experience With the Different Types of Salmon in Alaska
For most of my career I’ve spent my time documenting the lives and lifestyles of Alaskans. After spending so much time on these shows, my fellow co workers and I like to joke about, how all we do is film tree felling, hunting, and fishing. And while I might get tired of spending hours in a boat or waist deep in a freezing river, its just a reflection of how much salmon is an integral part of Alaskan life. Its my job to document life in Alaska, so naturally a lot of my time has been spent focusing on the different types of salmon and how they are connected to its residents.
I’ve been on salmon fishing stories in the Kachemak bay where the salmon are so thick you could kick them out of the water. I’ve seen the end of spawning season in Valdez, when the fish turn into zombies and literally start to disintegrate, it’s pretty gross. In addition to these experiences, I’ve gotten to know the people that rely on the different types of Alaskan salmon for their livelihood.
A lot of time we are filming in super remote areas and their aren’t hotels or normal accommodations, so the production companies will rent cabins from local fishermen to put us up in. This is how I’ve meet some of my favorite people in Alaska actually. I’ve lived with a Salmon troller and his wife on and off for years while working on a show in Port Protection, AK. I caught my first king salmon with him and he personally taught me a lot about Alaska and its different types of salmon.
Types of Salmon in Alaska
Table of Contents: Types of salmon in Alaska
Table of contents
- Why Trust Us Regarding the Types of Salmon in Alaska
- Types of Salmon in Alaska
- King Salmon (Chinook Salmon)
- Coho Salmon (Silver Salmon)
- Sockeye Salmon (Red Salmon)
- Pink Salmon (Humpy Salmon/Humpies)
- Chum Salmon (Dog Salmon)
- The Secret Type of Alaska Salmon
- How to Remember the types of Salmon in Alaska
- Catching the Different Types of Salmon in Alaska
- Spawning Locations of the Different Types of Salmon in Alaska
- How to Cook the Different Types of Salmon in Alaska
- Types of Salmon in Alaska Recap
Alaska boasts five distinct species of Pacific salmon, each with unique characteristics, spawning behaviors, flavors, and fishing methods.
King Salmon (Chinook Salmon)
The undisputed king of the salmon world, this behemoth is the largest type of salmon in Alaska. The world record king salmon was caught in 1985 and weighed 97 pounds! This species of Alaska salmon has a rich, oily, flesh and melts in your mouth, making it a prized catch for for more than just its size. Think sushi-grade sashimi or moderately seasoned fillets that preserve the natural flavor.
- Appearance: This type of Alaska salmon is mostly known for its large size. The Chinook salmon has a blueish green back and silvery sides with small black spots.
- Size: Adult Chinook salmon can weigh up to almost 100 pounds, with an average size of 20-30 pounds.
- Spawning: Chinook salmon typically spawn from late spring to early summer, with variations depending on the specific river or region.
- Flavor and Texture: Prized for their rich flavor and high oil content, Chinook salmon offers buttery-textured orange flesh.
Coho Salmon (Silver Salmon)
Don’t underestimate the smaller coho salmon. While this type of Alaska Salmon isn’t going to break any scales, its still a wonderful fish. A silver salmons meat is leaner and has a lower fat content that other species, making it a great canvas for chefs to paint in other bold flavors.
- Appearance: Coho salmon display a bright silver color with small black spots, turning reddish during spawning.
- Size: Adult Coho salmon usually weigh between 8-12 pounds.
- Spawning: Coho salmon usually spawn in the fall, typically from late July to November.
- Flavor and Texture: Coho salmon presents a milder flavor than Chinook and sockeye, with light red to orange flesh and a medium texture.
Sockeye Salmon (Red Salmon)
Renowned for its vibrant red flesh and robust flavor, sockeye salmon are one of the more iconic types of salmon in Alaska. This species of pacific salmon is only found in the wild, where they swim freely making the species much more nutritious and lower in fat content. Its vibrant red hue flesh has a dense texture and can is flavorful enough to be served with minimal seasoning but strong enough to still shine through with other bold flavors.
- Appearance: Sockeye salmon showcase a vibrant red body during spawning, with a slender, streamlined shape.
- Size: Adult sockeye salmon typically weigh between 4-15 pounds.
- Spawning: Sockeye salmon primarily spawn during the summer months, typically June to July.
- Flavor and Texture: Known for deep red flesh and robust flavor, sockeye salmon has a firmer dense texture.
Pink Salmon (Humpy Salmon/Humpies)
The smallest and most abundant type of salmon species in Alaska, is the pink salmon. Its mild flavor and sheer abundance make it one of the most affordable types of salmon in Alaska. A lot of fisher folks say that this species of pacific salmon is only good for canning, but if you manage to get ocean caught humpies before they start spawning, they can be quite tasty when grilled or roasted.
- Appearance: Pink salmon feature a light-colored body with large, irregular spots, and males develop a pronounced hump during spawning.
- Size: Adult pink salmon usually weigh between 3-5 pounds.
- Spawning: Pink salmon have a two year life cycle, with odd numbered years being dominant for spawning. They usually spawn from June to late October.
- Flavor and Texture: Pink salmon has a milder flavor and softer texture, making it suitable for various culinary applications.
Chum Salmon (Dog Salmon)
Often overlooked, chum salmon are the red headed step children of the pacific salmon species. My only experience with this type of Alaska salmon has been filming folks catch and make dog food out of them. Maybe that’s what they’re also referred to as dog salmon, or maybe because they are pretty ugly. When they spawn the males grow gnarly teeth and look like something from a John carpenter film. It’s doubtful you would ever find this type of Alaska salmon for sale in the lower 48.
- Appearance: Chum salmon exhibit vertical stripes and a silver body, with males developing canine-like teeth during spawning.
- Size: Adult chum salmon usually weigh between 6-15 pounds.
- Spawning: Chum salmon spawn during the winter, from the late October to March.
- Flavor and Texture: Chum salmon has pale pink to white flesh with a moderate flavor and dry firm texture.
The Secret Type of Alaska Salmon
So I didn’t even know this type of salmon existed in Alaska for years. I only learned about it when I was living with a local fisherman while working in a remote part of southeast, AK. One day, our wonderful host treated us with a rare catch. The Ivory King Salmon, the most special type of salmon in Alaska. The Ivory King or White King as he called it, is a super rare fish. Only around 1-5% of King salmon are ivory.
Apparently, fisherman would have trouble selling them because they don’t have the iconic red meat that everyone associates with salmon. So most fishermen would bring them home because they couldn’t get top dollar for them. And, because they taste freaking great! Ivory King salmon have a much higher fat content making them super delicious and melt in you mouth tender. If you ever get a chance to try this special type of Alaska salmon, consider yourself lucky.
How to Remember the types of Salmon in Alaska
The first time I worked in Alaska my sister came up to visit me and we went fishing on the Kenai River just outside of Soldotna. Our guide taught us a fun way to remember the different types of salmon in Alaska. I’m not sure who originally came up with it, but its always helped me remember.
So a good way to remember the different types of salmon in Alaska is to use your hand. I’ll explain in list form:
- Chum Salmon: Is closest to your thumb
- SockEYE Salmon: use your pointer finger to poke someones eye out!
- King Salmon: Your middle finger is the largest of the five, just like the King salmon.
- Silver Salmon: The ring finger is the one that wears jewelry, which is usually gold or SILVER.
- Pink Salmon: You can probably guess this one, but I’ll spell it out anyway. The pinky finger is for the pink salmon.
And there ya have it! A fun easy way to remember the five different types of salmon in Alaska.
Catching the Different Types of Salmon in Alaska
Catching each species of salmon in Alaska involves various methods, and both recreational and commercial fisher-folk employ distinct techniques. Here’s a breakdown of how to catch each type of salmon in Alaska:
- Chinook Salmon (King Salmon): Preferred methods include trolling with down riggers, or drifting, still fishing, or casting lines with lures or using bait such as herring or anchovies.
- Coho Salmon (Silver Salmon): Popular methods used to catch this type of salmon in Alaska include, trolling with flashers and lures, casting spinners, and spoons, and fly fishing.
- Sockeye Salmon (Red Salmon): Most sockeye salmon are caught with gill nets or a method called purse seining, which is when the fish are encircled with a long net and drawn to the bottom to be captured. I had to watch this video to get a good idea of what that is. Salmon Seining Video.
- Pink Salmon (Humpy Salmon): Pink salmon are often caught using casting techniques with spinners, jigs, or flies.
- Chum Salmon (Dog Salmon): Techniques include drift fishing with bait, using jigs, and casting spoons. Commercial fishing methods for this type of Alaska salmon include using gill-nets, purse seines, and troll gear.
Spawning Locations of the Different Types of Salmon in Alaska
Understanding the specific spawning times and locations of each salmon species is crucial for effective fisheries management and conservation efforts. It also allows fishermen and observers to plan visits to witness the impressive phenomenon. Keep in mind that these timeframes can vary. Here’s a breakdown of when and where each species of salmon typically spawn:
- Chinook Salmon (King Salmon): Chinook salmon spawn in various Alaskan rivers, including the Kenai River, Yukon River, Kuskokwim River, and others.
- Sockeye Salmon (Red Salmon): Key spawning areas include rivers and lakes such as the Kvichak River, Naknek Lake, and the Brooks River in Bristol Bay.
- Coho Salmon (Silver Salmon):Coho salmon spawn in a variety of Alaskan rivers, with popular locations including the Kenai River, Copper River, and Prince William Sound.
- Pink Salmon (Humpy Salmon): Pink salmon spawn in numerous rivers and streams throughout Alaska, with widespread distribution.
- Chum Salmon (Dog Salmon):Chum salmon spawn in rivers such as the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River, and others, with a preference for lower river sections.
How to Cook the Different Types of Salmon in Alaska
As you pursue your local fish market, you’ll notice by the price tag that not every type of salmon in Alaska is created equal. So let’s go over some basics and explore the art of the all the different types of salmon in Alaska, understanding why each deserves a distinctive culinary approach.
- King Salmon: Chinook salmon boasts a luscious, buttery texture. So keep it relatively simple and use a gentle heat to allow its natural fats to infuse throughout. A simple marinade of olive oil, lemon, and herbs is a great way to let the flavor of this type of Alaska salmon stand out. If you wanna try something with a little more pop however, check out this Honey Miso Ginger recipe.
- Coho Salmon: This type of Alaska salmon has a much more mild flavor and delicate texture, which make it a canvas for diverse culinary creations. Pan-searing with a crispy skin or baking with a lemon-dill sauce highlights its versatility. The goal is to preserve its tenderness while adding complementary flavors that accentuate its subtle taste. Try this Sweet & Sour Thai Curry recipe.
- Sockeye Salmon: Sockeye salmon’s is going to be much thinner and leaner than King Salmon, but it still has a rich “salmon” taste. Roasting this type of Alaska Salmon is a safe beat. Just remember it has a low fat content so be careful you don’t cook it too long and it dries out.
- Pink Salmon: With its mild flavor you’ll usually find this type of Alaska salmon in can form. Make a salmon salad spread or dip.
- Chum Salmon: I’d be impressed if you actually found dog salmon in the lower 48. And honestly I don’t have any experience cooking it, so please drop a comment if you do and make me a believer!
Types of Salmon in Alaska Recap
Here’s a list of the types of salmon in Alaska.
- King Salmon (Chinook)
- Silver Salmon (Coho)
- Sockeye Salmon (Red)
- Humpy Salmon (Pinks)
- Chum Salmon (Dog)
Types of Salmon in Alaska FAQ’s
Yes, salmon return to their natal rivers in Alaska to spawn.
All the different types of Alaska salmon are great for smoking.
Yes, there are many guided fishing tours offered throughout Alaska. Check the links below for charter recommendations.