Crash course in salmon identification

By Larry Ellis, fishing columnist August 31, 2012 10:38 pm

This is the inside of a coho salmon’s mouth. The arrows point to the white gums at the base of the teeth on the lower jaw as viewed from above. The Pilot/Larry Ellis

Fishing report for 

August 24-30

There are two things ocean salmon fishermen hope for. One is that there will be plenty of salmon available in the ocean. The other is that the ocean and weather conditions will be favorable on the day they choose to fish. For this weekend’s Slam’n Salmon Ocean Derby, anglers will most likely get both wishes.

 

There is no doubt that curs of the salt will be bringing in plenty of fish to the derby’s weigh station today and tomorrow, and there is also little doubt that there will be a few lunkers tipping the scales as well. Point in fact: On Wednesday, two ODFW Port samplers reported checking in 50 salmon at the Port of Brookings. One of the Chinook weighed over 30 pounds, while another was estimated to be between 40 and 45 pounds – so you know there are some Kingzillas out there.

But the majority of salmon being caught this weekend will be averaging between 12 and 18 pounds. Since only Chinook salmon may be retained in this section of the ocean, it would be well worth boning up on the basics of Chinook and coho identification, because during this time of year, coho salmon will be in that same 12- to 18-pound slot that most of the Chinook will fall into. All coho must be released.

If there ever was a time when an angler could latch into a big coho in the ocean, it would be this month. The Salmon Technical Team has projected that approximately 300,000 Oregon Coast Natural coho (OCN) will be finning their way to their home rivers from the Coquille to the Nehalem, and this is the month when they will be most available in the ocean, when they are fat, robust and ready to enter their rivers’ estuaries. There will also be Rogue River coho available in the ocean as well.

There are a lot of ways of differentiating the differences between coho and Chinook salmon, but the only foolproof, surefire way of detecting the difference between these two salmon is to take a good look inside of their mouths. This week’s photograph shows what a coho salmon’s mouth looks like.

First and foremost, always look at the lower jaw; never the upper jaw. Also, always look downward at the lower jaw as viewed from above, or from the top of the fish’s head looking down.

Second, you will always want to look at the gums from which the teeth come out; the places where they are seated. In a coho salmon, the gums at the base of the teeth will always be white. Arrows in this week’s photograph point exactly to the correct location of a coho’s white gums. In a Chinook, the gums at the base of their teeth will be black.

It is also interesting to note that the gums on the sides of both Chinook and coho salmon can be black –and often are. The white circle in the photograph shows that while the gums at the base of the teeth are white, the sides of the gums are black, giving the coho what is called an Oreo Cookie appearance.

During the derby festivities, also take a look around at the various venders. For the first time in the history of the derby, Jerry Bechhold from Bechhold & Son Flasher and Lure Company has set up an awesome display of his products near the grandstand. I’ve caught most of my ocean salmon by trolling anchovies using his clear chartreuse Rotary Bullet Bait Holders.

Also, for all fishermen’s convenience, the Port of Brookings Harbor has made bags of shaved, salted ice available at the port’s fillet station. Throw one or two bags of this ice in your fish box to get your fish’s core temperature down to 40 degrees and you’ll have a product that is equal to or better than anything you can buy at any fish market.

These large bags of ice are only $2 a bag, and paying is based on the honor system. A slot is available inside the freezer to deposit your money.

Klamath River Chinook

Ocean fishermen need not wonder anymore why they’ve been hooking up with an abundance of Chinook between 20 and 24 inches. The Klamath River has started shaping up and kicking out more jacks than Carter’s got pills. One of local area’s top guides has been whackin’ and stackin’ fish like cordwood.

“This last week the fishing’s gotten better and better every day,” says Mick Thomas from Lunker Fish Trips in Hiouchi on Thursday. “There’s a ton of jacks out there, I mean, they’re everywhere! Today we got six adults and I don’t know how many jacks.”

Most anglers haven’t had to venture further upriver than Blue Creek to score on these scrappy Chinook. Thomas has been staying in the lower three miles of the river, saving fuel and catching plenty of incoming chromers.

“Every day we’re seeing fresh new batches of fish with sea lice on them,” says Thomas. “It’s just unreal!”

Normally Thomas doesn’t start fishing the Klamath until after Labor Day Weekend, so with this many fish in the system early in the season, get ready to rumble.

Most experienced guides have been back-dragging roe, and as one can imagine, the boat traffic has been horrendous, so as the saying goes, “When in Rome.” In other words, please don’t anchor up in the middle of the river when everybody else is dragging bait; that is, unless you want four-letter expletives thrown your way with abandon. Take a good look at how most people are fishing, especially the local guides.

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After last Monday’s rain and with cooling river temperatures, many of the Rogue Bay’s fall Chinook made tracks upriver. But with warming river trends, there will be more kings entering the system and continuing to stack up in the bay. To keep apprised of current river conditions, call the Rogue Outdoor Store or Jot’s Resort in Gold Beach.

Tight lines!