Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 14:56
Updated date: 2/6/17


The Chinook is the largest of the Pacific salmon. The largest chinook salmon ever documented, a 126 lb fish, was caught in a fish trap near Petersburg, Alaska, in 1949. Another name for this fish is King Salmon, and these fish truly are the king of salmons. In the ocean, chinook have blueish-green backs and silver sides, with some black spotting on the back, dorsal fin and the tail. Spawning fish in rivers can be bright red and males develop a hooked snout. Although one of the most esteemed Pacific coast sportfish, here in the midwest the Chinook is an exotic. A fall-spawner, it competes with native brook trout and devours their eggs. They were stocked to add variety to the decimated Great Lakes fisheries, and to help control the exotic alewife. Native lake trout stocks were so low that a top predator like the chinook was needed to keep them in check. Now that the native lakers have rebounded (through a wide array of anti-lamprey measures) the big chinooks are very few in number in Lake Superior and contribute very little to the Superior fishery. Chinooks are usually caught by trolling in the lake, but they do ascend rivers to spawn and are available to anglers in the early fall.





When a run of Chinooks is in a river, there is no mistaking it.  These fish are large, sometimes bright red, and engage in spawning activity on shallow gravel bars where they are very visible.  However, they can be notoriously tight-lipped and you may cast fruitlessly over a hundred fish for hours without a single hookup.  Because these fish are so large and visible (and tasty), anglers are constantly harassing them.  Sadly, some people give up trying to angle for them and just snag the fish.  Once a Chinook has been in the river for a week, it has seen so many lures, flies and bait that it will not strike anything at all.  The fish may have been foul-hooked a few times as well, and just wants to spawn in peace.





In Alaska, we ran into a river full of Chinooks right off the highway.  They were indifferent to our flies, and we had to drift small yarn flies past a fish's face dozens of times before they would open up their mouth and take the fly.  It was very difficult to hook up with a King here, despite the large numbers of fish.  However, on our pack rafting trip down a remote and seldom-fished river, the Chinooks would aggressively strike a large fly.  They would move 10 feet to hunt down and kill it.  These fish were not pressured, and were a completely different animal than those we had encountered earlier.  The adrenaline rush that comes from watching a 40-pound bright red beast charge after your lure is unmatched in the realm of fishing for trout and salmon.  Below is a great fly for triggering these agressive Chinooks.



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