About Chinook Salmon

Chinook Salmon are a favorite of Oregon fishing Guides. They are the largest species of  Pacific salmon,  native to the North Pacific Ocean and the river systems of western North America. Its name refers to the indigenous Chinook Indians who populated what is now Oregon and Washington, and who were well-known traders of dried salmon with many groups who came to the region. Today, wild-caught Chinook salmon is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.


Salmon Fishing trips on Oregon rivers are an exciting and memorable experience.  A large Chinook salmon is one of the most esteemed prizes in sports fishing. Some weigh more than 50 lbs., but a 10 to 25-lb. Chinook is more common. “With good runs in most Oregon rivers, Chinook salmon are highly sought after for their size and tremendous fight,” says Buddy Dupell, owner and guide of Columbia River Fishing Adventures.


Since Oregon’s rivers are less than forty miles long, the salmon remain bright after traveling the short distance to their spawning grounds.  Juvenile salmon are reared in the clean, well-oxygenated river and stream waters, and then migrate to the Pacific Ocean’s salt water to feed and mature.  When they grow large enough to make the journey, they return to their freshwater beginnings to lay their eggs.


In the ocean, Chinook have purple-hued backs and silvery sides, bellies and fins.  Their key identifier is a black gum line on the lower jaw with dark colors inside and outside of the gum line.  Once returned to freshwater, their color darkens and red appears on their bellies and fins.


There are three varieties of Oregon Chinook Salmon:

Spring Chinook Salmon.  They spawn farther upstream than any other salmon, and migrate from August to early November. The spawning grounds of Spring Chinook Salmon include the headwaters of the Willamette River, the Columbia River and the Clackamas River.


Fall Chinook Salmon.  Fall Chinook enter Oregon streams from August to September and spawn from October to early March. They are fished mostly in the Tidal estuaries along the coast.  After entering fresh water, Fall Chinook, or King salmon change color from silver to brown.

Winter King Salmon. This is the least-known variety of Chinook. They enter small rivers along the South Coast of Oregon after sandbars at the mouths of the rivers are cleared by November rains. The Winter King Chinook run peaks in mid to late December.


In the Pacific Northwest, salmon is much more than a great-tasting, nutrient-rich food. It is a keystone species that helps keep the ecosystem balanced, providing food for killer whales, bears, birds, and other wildlife; and when they die, they supply nutrients to old-growth forests.

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