It’s almost silver salmon season on the Columbia, and that means another season for anglers to pursue encounters with this remarkable fish. But what is a silver salmon, anyway?

We’ve talked about the silver, or coho, salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), before, but this time we’re going to dig a little deeper into the lives and natural history of these fascinating gamefish.

Historically, silver salmon were found throughout the North Pacific, from Central California to Point Hope, Alaska, to the Aleutian Islands, and beyond to the Anadyr River in Russia and finally the northern island of Hokkaido in Japan.

Today they still have major spawning grounds in Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, and Alaska. They have also been introduced to Lake Eerie, and spawn in some of the tributary rivers leading into that lake.

Like salmon generally, silver salmon are anadromous, meaning that they spawn in freshwater, and the young subsequently migrate to the sea where they mature before swimming upriver to repeat the cycle.

To be more specific, young silver salmon typically live in freshwater until the spring of their second year. During their time in freshwater, they eat a steady diet of zooplankton, insects, and, especially as they get a little bigger, other small fish.

After migrating to the ocean as smolts, silver salmon spend 16-20 months growing to maturity. During this time, they eat small crustaceans, such as krill, and small fish.

Typically, silver salmon return from the ocean to spawn in the summer to fall, now aged 3 years. At this point, a typical wild fish may be about 8 pounds on average.

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However, some of the male salmon return from the sea early, at the age of only 2 years, after spending only one summer there. These “jack” salmon are of interest chiefly because they are fairly accurate bellwethers of how abundant the salmon run will be the following year – when the rest of the salmon in their age cohort go upriver to spawn.

Silver salmon are generally metallic blue, with silver sides and belly – thus the name – in the ocean, but as they go upriver to spawn they turn muddy red, with black spotting and black mouths. Additionally, their snouts or “noses” protrude over their lower jaws.

During spawning, the female may dig several nests, or “redds”, in which to lay her eggs. In total, female silver salmon lay about 3,000-4,000 eggs. Like other species of salmon, silver salmon are semelparous, meaning they breed only once and then die.

Silver salmon are a remarkable game fish. The ones that run in the Columbia average about 6-12 pounds, with hatchery fish being somewhat smaller, but they are known for putting up a much greater fight than their total weight would suggest.

While silver salmon are tricky to get on the hook, a salmon fishing guide can help you to maximize your chances. Guides with experience on the Columbia know where to go and what to do to get the fish to bite.

With the season almost upon us, available guides will fill up with reservations fast. Don’t miss out: book your charter on the Columbia River, and get ready to encounter the silver salmon.

To find out more about silver salmon fishing charters, please drop us a line.