Planning to do some fishing during your next visit to Sointula? Whether you book a stay at Malcolm Island’s own luxury fishing resort, Sointula Lodge, or a day charter with one of several companies in town, you’ll get a chance to experience the tranquil waters of coastal British Columbia that draw so many visitors each year. And you’ll get to try your hand at reeling in one of the 5 BC salmon types that call those waters home!

While these are far from the only fish found in the region, they are among some of the most popular for fishermen visiting from around the world. From the challenging Chinook to the sharp-jawed Sockeye, each of the 5 BC salmon species are unique. But if it’s your first time fishing in British Columbia, you might not be able to immediately tell them apart.

Keep reading to learn how to tell different BC salmon types apart.

King Salmon

The King salmon, also known as Chinook or Spring salmon, are the largest of the BC salmon types. They can reach up to 130 pounds when fully grown. However, most King salmon average around 30 pounds. Their large size makes them a challenge to reel in.

How can you tell a King salmon apart from other BC salmon species? Their size is one great giveaway. However, more average-sized King will be similar in size to Coho salmon. If your salmon is close to 30 pounds, look for large black spots along its back, dorsal fine, and on the tail. Their tails also have a shiny, silver color to them.

One thing to keep in mind is that all of the BC salmon types look different after some time in the ocean than they do during their spawning phase when they travel up freshwater rivers to reproduce. During this time, King salmon develop a more hooked jaw and become more bronze in color. 

Coho Salmon

While in the ocean, Coho salmon look pretty similar to mid-sized King salmon. Also called Silvers or Bluebacks, this BC salmon species averages between 25 and 30 pounds when fully grown. In the ocean, they have smaller black spots along their back than King salmon. They also have a white mouth with white gums.

When Coho salmon are spawning, they develop more red coloring, as well as an elongated, hooked upper jaw. During this stage, they look similar to Sockeye salmon when spawning, though Sockeye are a brighter red, with an olive-green head.

Chum Salmon

Smaller than King or Coho salmon, Chum salmon average between 10 and 30 pounds when fully grown. These fish can be a challenging catch, however, they aren’t nearly as popular for eating as the other BC salmon types. 

Like the other salmon species we’ve mentioned, Chum becomes largely silver while in its ocean phase. They tend to be thinner than the other salmon species, though similar in shape and size to Sockeye salmon. Chum don’t have the spots you’ll find on Coho or King salmon, though they may have some slight speckling.

Chum salmon are much easier to identify in their spawning phase. They develop an olive-green and purple hue, with vertical stripes down their sides. They also develop a hooked jaw, though it is less prominent than that of a Coho salmon.

Pink Salmon

During their ocean phase, the Pink salmon looks similar to King salmon in shape. However, this BC salmon type is much easier to identify thanks to its small size. Pink salmon are the smallest of the BC salmon species, averaging just 4 to 7 pounds when fully grown. They usually have large black spots on their back, as well as oval-shaped spots on their tales. They have black along their gum line, with a white mouth.

While spawning, male Pink salmon develop a prominent hump on their backs, just in front of their dorsal fin. Their bodies become more pale and brown or green-gray in color.

Sockeye Salmon

Similar to Pink salmon, Sockeye is small in size, reaching an average of between 5 and 15 pounds when fully grown. Much like the Coho salmon, while in their ocean phase, Sockeye salmon have a narrow body. They have no prominent spots along their backs like the other salmon types, though they may have some light speckling. Their eyes are bright gold, which can make them easier to tell apart from Pink salmon, in addition to their more narrow shape.

Sockeye salmon are perhaps the easiest to identify while in their spawning phase. They develop a bright red body, with a prominent hump on their back, though less prominent than the Pink salmon. Their heads also develop a bright, olive-green tone to their heads, as well as a sharply hooked jaw that showcases their sharp teeth.

Fishing for All 5 BC Salmon Types

Dreaming of fighting with an oversized King salmon, or seeing the stripes of a Chum salmon up close? Sointula is one of the best places in British Columbia for salmon fishing. Book a stay at our island’s own luxury fishing lodge, or add a day charter from one of the sailing and fishing charters on Malcolm Island to your trip.

Ready to start planning your salmon fishing adventure at Sointula? Check out our fishing resources to choose the right charter or fishing lodge for your stay!