Coho Salmon are the abundant, quick-to-feed, quick-to-grow, quick-to-snap-at-your-lure fish that everyone loves to catch. They spend their adolescence in the open ocean waters closest to their natal river, giving everyone on the Pacific Coast a great fishery. Known in much of their range by their aptly appointed nickname, Silver Salmon. They are super fun to catch, and offer great table fare.
Coho Salmon Basics
Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus kisutch
Geographic Range: Alaska to Central California
Typical Depth: 5′ to 150′
Typical Weight: 3 pounds to 15 pounds
Coho Salmon are born in their natal river and will usually spend 1-2 years as juveniles before migrating out to their marine pastures to feed and mature. They spend one summer in the ocean, then migrate back to the river of their birth to spawn and complete their life cycle. Shortly after spawning, they die. Their spent bodies decompose in the river system and provide much needed proteins to their nutrient poor home waters.
How To Identify Coho Salmon
Coho Salmon in their prime marine state are silver in color. They typically have black spots along the upper part of their body, and the upper lobe of their tail fin. They have a white gum line, which is one of the primary distinguishing factors that make them easy to identify against Chinook Salmon, which can look very similar. Coho also lack black spots on the lower lobe of their tail fin, another defining characteristic compared to Chinook Salmon.
As Coho return to their river to spawn, their body color changes. Males tend to transition to have an olive colored back, and pink sides. When male Coho reach their final spawning colors, Their head and back turn dark olive to black, with a red body. They are easily identified by the large bulbous nose they grow, known as a kipe. Female Coho spawning transition is less severe, their body will transition from silver to a dull silver/gray.
Where Coho Salmon Live
Most Coho Salmon will migrate out to the closest area of the Pacific that hosts ample forage. Usually, they are found feeding within 20 miles from shore, in waters on the continental shelf. Coho in the northern range migrate back to spawn in July, and eat their way back. So they easily come within reach of coastal communities nearshore and in the coastal bays, passageways that their natal river empties into. Washington and Oregon Coho populations start their migration in August and September.
As they enter the river to spawn, they stage in the estuary and lower sections of river, waiting for strong storms that bring rising water levels in their rivers. This is the green light that pushes them closer to their spawning beds deep in the river system.