Southeast Alaska Fish Species
Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) – Also known as silver salmon, coho salmon are highly regarded as a sport fish. The identifying features of the coho salmon are small black spots on the back, caudal fin and upper lobe of the caudal fin only. The gum line is white to light gray. Ocean coloration: greenish-blue back with silver sides. Spawning adults develop greenish-black heads with dark brown to maroon bodies. The usual weight of adults ranges from 7 to 14 pounds. They return as adults to the waters of southeast Alaska in July to September to spawn in their natal stream. Most returning adults have spent 2 years rearing in fresh water and 1 year in the ocean.
Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) – Also known as king salmon, Chinook salmon are the largest of the Pacific salmon. The identifying features of the Chinook salmon are small black spots on both lobes of caudal (tail) fin and on their back; gums at base of teeth in lower jaw are black. Their body color at sea is blue-gray with silver sides. Spawning adults lose their silvery bright coloration and take on a maroon to olive-brown color. Adults return to their natal streams in July and August. Chinook salmon are simply magnificent fish. They are very powerful and hard fighting fish. The flesh is generally red, but there are some with white meat, a local favorite. Chinook meat has the highest fat content of all the salmon, therefore it is the richest.
Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) - Also known as red salmon due to their bright red flesh and scarlet spawning color, sockeye salmon are a valuable commercial fish due to their deep red flesh and rich meat. At sea sockeye have a dark blue-black back with silvery sides. There are no distinct spots on the back, dorsal or caudal fin. Spawning adults develop dull, green colored heads with brick red to scarlet bodies. Fish average 6 to 12 pounds. They are also prized sport fish, not just because of their flesh, but because of their fighting ability. When hooked, sockeye salmon can fight hard like a steelhead and frequently jump. Anglers seek out sockeye salmon when the fish return to their natal streams to spawn, generally from July to October.
Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) – Also known as humpback or humpy, these fish have very large spots on their back with large, oval black blotches on both lobes of tail. At sea their backs are dark green-black with silvery sides. Spawning adults turn a dull gray on the back and upper sides with a creamy white color below. Males develop a pronounced hump, which accounts for their nickname. Adult pink salmon move into their natal streams from June to late September. Pink salmon are not highly prized sport fish. They are fun to catch and they taste fine if they are caught while "ocean bright". The quality of their meat drops quickly as they prepare to enter fresh water. The average size ranges from 2 to 6 pounds.
Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) – Also known as dog salmon, these fish have no distinctive black spots on their backs. At sea their backs are dull gray with yellowish silver sides. Spawning adults develop olive green coloration on the back with maroon sides covered with irregular dull red bars. Males exhibit many large canine teeth. The average size ranges from 9 to 13 pounds. Like pink salmon, chum salmon are not prize sport fish. They will take a variety of spinners and small lures, and an angler geared for Dolly Varden who hooks into a chum salmon will have an admirable opponent on their hands. The flesh contains little oil and the yellowish color makes it less desirable then other species of salmon, though they are fine to eat if caught at sea while they are still “ocean bright”.
Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) – Steelhead are a sea-run rainbow trout. They develop a red strip along their side after several days to weeks in freshwater. The back and upper half of the fish has many small black spots which may extend into the lower half of the fish. The dorsal and caudal fins are densely covered with black spots. Body coloration is highly variable depending on size, locality, and sexual maturity. Ordinarily the top of head, back, and upper half of the sides are dark blue to greenish or brownish. The lower half is somewhat silvery and the belly silvery white. Steelhead are easily one of the most sought after sport fish in North America, let alone Southeast Alaska. They are amazing fighters which often leap. The flesh has an excellent flavor and is pink in color. They hit both flies and lures. Steelhead are generally harvested in streams as they return to spawn. The record steelhead taken by an angler in Southeast Alaska was 42 lbs. from Bell Island near Ketchikan.
Dolly Varden (Salvalinus malma) – Dolly Varden are in the char family and a close relative of the arctic char. Dolly Varden are found throughout Southeast Alaska and exhibit both sea-run and lake resident life cycles. Their bodies are elongate and rounded. Their most distinguishing characteristic is pink or red spots on the side. Pectoral, pelvic and anal fins typically have white or creamy leading edges followed by a black or red line. Body color is extremely variable. Spawning males turn bright orange to red on the lower sides. Sea-run Dolly Varden tend to be darker on top with silvery sides and resident fish are often dusky to brown. Dolly Varden are not highly prized sport fish, though they will bite artificial lures. They seem more attracted to shiny spoons and spinners, and flies.
Northern Pike (Esox lucius) – Northern pike are highly regarded as a sport fish. Northern pike have a long slender body with dark grayish green to green or dark brown along their back, a creamy white belly and large canine teeth. They have irregular rows of yellow spots along their side and their fins have green, yellow, orange or red markings with dark splotches. There is only one naturally occurring population of Northern pike in Southeast Alaska – in the Pike Lakes area near Yakutat.
Threespine Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) – Threespine stickleback are a small, minnow-like fish with sharp, stout dorsal and pectoral spines that rarely exceeds a 3 inches in length. They are not a game fish or even a prey species, but are common and abundant in the waters in Southeast Alaska.
Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) – Pacific halibut are highly prized sport fish. These fish only occur in the ocean and do not go into freshwater. Pacific halibut are a large elongated flat fish that have both eyes on one side of their body. The eyed side is grayish to greenish brown or black with dark and light mottling with small smooth scales. The blind side is white. These fish can grow to over 100 inches in length.
Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) – Also known as hooligan, eulachon are a silvery, bluish to bluish black or brown, with fine black speckling on their back. Eulachon are anadromous and school in massive numbers along the coast. They swim upstream in freshwater to spawn. Eulachon are an important species for seals, sea lions, and other fish eating predators. They grow to about 10 inches in length.
Lingcod (Ophiodon elongates) – Lingcod are a highly prized sport fish. They are an elongated fish that are black, gray or brown with shades of blue or green with dark mottling. They have eye-sized yellow or orange spots along their back and sides and a large mouth full of sharp canine teeth. These ocean fish are usually found in rocky areas or near kelp beds. These fish can grow to over 50 inches in length.
Coastal Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) –Cutthroat trout are the most common trout species found in Southeast Alaska, and exhibit both sea-run and freshwater-resident life cycles. Cutthroat can be silvery to brassy with yellowish tints and have densely packed, irregularly shaped dark brown or black spots on their body, head, and fins with a red or orange streak on the underside of their lower jaw. Sea-run cutthroat trout will take a week or so in freshwater to develop their spots and the red or orange streak on the underside of their lower jaw.
Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) – The rainbow trout is non-anadromous and lives in freshwater only. The back and upper half of the fish has many small black spots which may extend into the lower half of the fish. The dorsal and caudal fins are densely covered with black spots. Body coloration is highly variable depending on size, locality, and sexual maturity. Ordinarily the top of head, back, and upper half of the sides are dark blue to greenish or brownish. The lower half is somewhat silvery and the belly silvery white.