Types of Salmon

There are five common types of salmon that inhabit the waters around Alaska. You are likely asking why I am writing about Alaskan Salmon? Aren't they salt water fish? That is easy to answer: Salmon are born and spawn in fresh water; I love to eat salmon; and I just returned from an Alaskan vacation where I was able to go salmon fishing on the Copper River and saw Alaska salmon runs. Plus: They they are big fish, fun to catch and turn colors when they make the spawn.

Types of Salmon Alaskan Salmon Identification


Remembering 5 Types of Salmon

Our Copper River fishing guide taught us how to remember these five salmon found in Alaskan waters using your thumb and 4 fingers. The five types of salmon are: Chum Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, King Salmon, Silver Salmon and Pink Salmon. Called a mnemonic (silent m) which is a technique that aids in the retention to memory of something, this one is great!

  • Thumb - Chum Salmon: Rhymes with Thumb
  • Index Finger - Sockeye Salmon: Think about pointing even poking or socking at someones eye
  • Middle Finger - King Salmon: Your biggest finger to remind you about the biggest salmon the King Salmon
  • Ring Finger - Silver Salmon: Perfect for jewelry - remember Silver
  • Little Finger - Pink Salmon: this is your little pinky finger

Fishing the Copper River

Our fishing guide floated us down the Copper River covering about 10 miles. We stopped at several hot spots and had great success. We caught 6 king salmon and were able to get them to the shore. We had another six hooked up only to make long runs and eventually be broken off. What a grand time was had. The lower Copper River was full and fast flowing, which is ideal for the king salmon and spawn.

King Salmon Copper River Salmon

Alaskan Salmon Fishing Outing

There are lots of websites that go into great detail about the different types of salmon. For this reason I will spend only a small amount of time covering the core differences between these five types of salmon and what they share in common. I have always heard about Alaska Salmon Runs and placed seeing that on my bucket list. Usually bucket list items are one and done, but this one is going back on my "to do again list."

King Salmon Copper River Salmon

Alaska Salmon Runs

Salmon Spawning near Mendenhall Glacier Salmon Spawning Near Mendenhall Glacier

These five salmon types share several common characteristics, the main one being their runs back to fresh water rivers and streams to spawn. Salmon are hatched in fresh water streams and grow in this fresh water environment for anywhere from 4 months to a year. At this time they travel to the open salt water where they feed and grow to maturity. They spend from 3-5 years growing in this manner. An internal clock triggers them when it is time to swim back to the rivers and streams from which they were hatched. This can be up to hundreds of miles.

Ketchikan Salmon Run

Ketchikan Salmon Ladder Ketchikan Salmon Ladder

On our stop in Ketchikan I was able to observe salmon running up a small stream near the Mendenhall Glacier and also up a river in Ketchikan proper, which runs along side Creek Street. I was able to walk along this river for over a mile, watching as salmon maneuvered through rapids, water falls and also through a man made "salmon ladder." This had been built to assist the salmon to bypass a huge waterfall. We followed this river until it got very wide and shallow and we were able to observe many salmon laying their eggs in the rocky bottom. The ladder is on the left side of the picture, Note the rushing water fall that is high and long. The ladder has been built like a switch back in a road to climb a mountain. The ladder has a series of much smaller water falls enabling the salmon to traverse this rapid water. The photo below is evidence that many salmon make it to much farther up stream.

Ketchikan Salmon Spawn Ketchikan Salmon Spawn

Alaska Salmon Runs - Spawning

This spawning begins their life cycle all over again. After spawning the adult salmon will die and remain in the river - feeding the eco-system. Many commercially available pictures are available showing salmon making amazing jumps up water falls - going to extremes to make it to their ideal spawning locations. Pictures also abound of black bear and grizzly bear along side of and in streams seeking to enjoy their own feast of salmon.

In open salt water salmon are mostly all silver differing in size, shape and mouth structure. As salmon move into their spawning sites amazing color changes and shapes begin to occur. The following link on this website summarizes these characteristics. The majority of this information has come from the Alaska Fish and Wildlife website. Alaska is known for fostering native and not farm raised Salmon. http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/fieldoffice/fairbanks/salmon/identification.htm