BRITISH COLUMBIA GAME FISH

STEELHEAD

Steelhead are similar to other Pacific salmon in many ways but for one glaring exception: they can be repeat spawners (as are Cutthroat trout). Their classification is hotly debated: they used to be placed in the genus Salmo (like Atlantic salmon); now most scientists place them in the Oncorhynchus genus, while others disagree because of their repeat spawning.

Whatever their genus, Steelhead are most likely to be found in eastern Pacific waters. They live for a long time, up to eight years! Steelhead can spawn three times, but most don't survive that long (especially males).

The largest Steelhead can weigh over 30 lbs and measure 45 inches, but most weigh between eight and 20 lbs. A Non-Anadromous Variation: Rainbow Trout.

As Sockeye have a freshwater-only variation, the Kokannee, Steelhead have the Rainbow trout, who never see the ocean. There are six sub-species of Rainbow trout in the Pacific Rim.

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CHINOOK

SALMON

Chinook are the largest Pacific salmon and can weigh over 100 lbs. But on average, Chinook hit the scales at about 30 lbs. They're long as well as heavy, in the range of 40 to 60 inches at maturity.

Spotting a Chinook

One of the nicknames for Chinook salmon is "blackmouth", earned from gumlines that look painted with black pigment. When not spawning, they appear blue-green with silvery sides, and they have black spotting on their backs and dorsal fins and on both lobes of their tail fin.

When they are spawning, their colour goes richer, from deep red to coppery-black.

COHO 

SALMON

Highly adaptable, Coho can be found in rivers and streams across North America. They generally weigh from 8 to 12 lbs and run from 18 to 24 inches in length.

Coho are incredible challenges for sportfishers, they're hard to catch, leaping up but also sideways. They're known for a 'smash and run' pattern when they bite, and the angler should be prepared to dart from one side of the boat to the other to keep up. Like Chinook, Coho are highly prized by sportfishers. And like Chinook, they are much more carnivorous than other Pacific salmon, with shrimp a favourite feast.

Spotting a Coho

Coho, especially large ones, and especially during spawning, can look a lot like Chinook. But in the ocean, they can be easily identified by their dark blue backs. When spawning, a Coho's snout becomes blunt and deeply hooked. Male Cohos' lower mouths get so swollen during spawning that they can't close them!

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CHUM SALMON

Chum are substantial fish, second only to Chinook in terms of size in the Oncorhynchus genus. They generally weigh 12 to 15 lbs, and measure 35 to 45 inches long.

As well as being big, Chum are quite abundant and well distributed throughout the Pacific Coast except for Oregon and California. They are particularly important in Japan, where they are a food staple and a large source of exports. The Japanese have been very successful with Chum enhancement programs.

Chum taste milder and softer than do most other varieties of Pacific salmon. In North America, they are less valued for sportfishing and eating than Chinook, Sockeye, and Coho.

Spotting a Chum

It can be difficult to distinguish Chum from Sockeye or even Coho, but on closer examination, their gill and scale patterns give them away. They are also narrower at the section linking tail and body. Normally blue-green with speckles and silver sides, Chum (especially males) develop striking green and purple vertical bars upon entering freshwater. Chum have huge teeth and pronounced hooked jaws, which may have given them the nickname Dog salmon.

PINK

SALMON

The smallest of BC's Pacific salmon, Pink salmon are also populous and the least vulnerable to extinction. They weigh from three to eleven pounds, and measure 18 to 24 inches long.

They exhibit the least dependence on freshwater, starting immediately for the ocean upon emerging from their redds (redds are the nests where salmon get their start). Because of their small size, they are especially likely to travel in schools for protection. Pink salmon have the shortest lifespans of Pacific salmon: two years. They return to freshwater to spawn either in even or odd years; those that return in even years are genetically distinct from those returning in odd years.

Pink salmon don't just have to deal with the regular slew of Pacific salmon predators; they also get eaten by Coho salmon and Cutthroat trout!

Spotting a Pink

Small size and relatively rounded shape is one sure indicator of a Pink; but male Pinks are recognizable for much more than this just before and during spawning. They develop a huge hump in front of the dorsal fin; and like Chum, their snouts hook sharply downward while their lower jaws swell to the point of preventing their mouths from closing. (Breeding females, like females of so many other species, salmon or otherwise, don't change appearance very much). During non-spawning times, Pink salmon are blue-green with black dots along the back and silvery sides.

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SOCKEYE SALMON

Slim, streamlined, and brilliantly coloured, Sockeye are something to see in the rivers and lakes of the Pacific Northwest. They have always played a major symbolic role in First Nations cultures, and have provided valued subsistence nutrition to them. They are also greatly sought after in the rest of the world for their firm, rich, orange flesh and full flavour, which in some ways has made them the archetype of what salmon 'should' be.

Important to commercial fisheries, Sockeye also intrigue sportfishers with their elusive ways, patience, and fight when it comes right down to it!

Sockeye weigh from five to 12 lbs at maturity, when they are typically four years old. They range from 20 to 28 inches long.

Landlocked Cousins: there is a species of salmon called Kokannee, which is very much like Sockeye in appearance - though much smaller - that never makes the trip to the ocean. Therefore, Kokannee are not anadromous.

Spotting a Sockeye

Sockeye are often mistaken for Coho. But two things help to identify them: big eyes and the iridescent shininess of their skin. You won't find big teeth on Sockeye, either: they primarily eat euphasids and krill. Also missing: the prominent spots and speckles of Coho and Chinook. Male Sockeye develop a pronounced hump when spawning.

RAINBOW

TROUT

Cutthroat join Steelhead in representing the trout strain to the Pacific salmon population in BC and the Pacific Northwest. There are two variations of Cutthroat: the first is the anadromous coastal Cutthroat (the subject here), while the second is the non-marine (or interior) Cutthroat, which is much more yellow in overall hue than the silvery coastal variety.

Big eaters, Cutthroat enjoy everything from salmon fry, sculpins, stickleback, and even smaller trout. When they have to, they rely on simpler fare like insects and leeches. They can weigh up to 40 lbs. and measure up to 30 inches.

Spotting a Cutthroat

Sportfishers sometimes get confused as to whether they're looking at a Rainbow or Cutthroat trout. Distinguishing features of the Cutthroat include: a blunt head, a large mouth that extends beyond the eye, red-orange slashes just beneath the jawline, heavy spots across the sides and even the belly, and a silvery overall colour. As they move through their migratory cycle, their colours change, and their characteristic slash diminishes, making it easier to confuse them with Rainbow trout. They have lots of sharp little teeth, all the better to catch salmon fry with!

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DOLLY VARDEN

CHAR

Slim, streamlined, and brilliantly coloured, Sockeye are something to see in the rivers and lakes of the Pacific Northwest. They have always played a major symbolic role in First Nations cultures, and have provided valued subsistence nutrition to them. They are also greatly sought after in the rest of the world for their firm, rich, orange flesh and full flavour, which in some ways has made them the archetype of what salmon 'should' be.

Important to commercial fisheries, Sockeye also intrigue sportfishers with their elusive ways, patience, and fight when it comes right down to it!

Sockeye weigh from five to 12 lbs at maturity, when they are typically four years old. They range from 20 to 28 inches long.

Landlocked Cousins: there is a species of salmon called Kokannee, which is very much like Sockeye in appearance - though much smaller - that never makes the trip to the ocean. Therefore, Kokannee are not anadromous.

Spotting a Sockeye

Sockeye are often mistaken for Coho. But two things help to identify them: big eyes and the iridescent shininess of their skin. You won't find big teeth on Sockeye, either: they primarily eat euphasids and krill. Also missing: the prominent spots and speckles of Coho and Chinook. Male Sockeye develop a pronounced hump when spawning.

WHITE

STURGEON

The white sturgeon is a unique freshwater fish species that plays a significant role in British Columbia's cultural and social heritage, as well as our economy. The white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) belongs to the sturgeon family Acipenseridae. Not only is it the largest sturgeon species in North America, it is also the largest freshwater fish species in North America. The only other sturgeon species found in British Columbia waters is the green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris Ayres). However, very little is known about this species except that it tends to be found under more marine and coastal conditions.

White Sturgeon are found in 3 major drainages on the west coast of North America including the Sacramento (in California), Columbia (in British Columbia, Idaho and Washington) and Fraser systems. In British Columbia, spawning populations of white sturgeon occur in three rivers: the Fraser/Nechako, Columbia and Kootenay. White sturgeon have also been observed in the mouth of the Cowichan and Somass rivers on Vancouver Island. However, it is likely that these fish represent stray fish from the mainland systems, possibly the Columbia River in Washington, rather than separate spawning populations.