King Salmon: A Prized Delicacy from Alaska

What is Alaskan King Salmon?

An Alaskan king salmon, also known as Chinook salmon, is a highly sought-after fish species that is native to the North Pacific region. This particular species is the largest among all Pacific salmon.

Alaskan King salmon boasts a distinct red-orange flesh that is not only flavorful but also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Because of its exceptional taste and texture, it has gained popularity in various culinary applications, including sushi and sashimi.

Apart from its gastronomic appeal, the Alaskan salmon holds great cultural and economic significance for the people of Alaska. The fishing practices surrounding this species are carefully managed to ensure its sustainability.

Alaskan King Salmon: What You Need to Know

Names

  • Common Name: King salmon
  • Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
  • Other Names: Chinook salmon, Blackmouth, Spring salmon

Description

The natural appearance of wild Alaskan King Salmon is characterized by black irregular spots on its back, dorsal fins, and both lobes of the tail fin. The fish also possess black gums and a black mouth under the tongue.

In terms of size, King Salmon typically measure 36 inches or more and weigh over 30 pounds when they reach maturity.

Distinguishing Features

One key feature that sets the Alaska King salmon apart from other Pacific salmon species is its combination of a black mouth and black gums.

King Salmon Life Cycle

Spawning

King salmon prefer to spawn in deep, fast-moving freshwater rivers.

Rearing

In Alaska, King salmon eggs normally hatch in late winter or early spring. Upon hatching, the fry divides into two groups: ocean-type and stream-type. Ocean-type fry undergoes smoltification and migrates to the ocean, while stream-type fry remains in freshwater for one full year before going through smoltification and heading for the ocean.

Maturation

Alaskan salmon spend anywhere from 1 to 6 years feeding in the ocean. Since they can become sexually mature between 2 and 7 years old, the size of the spawning fish can vary greatly. A 2-year-old mature fish is likely to weigh less than 4 pounds, but a 7-year-old mature fish can easily exceed 50 pounds.

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King salmon return to the freshwater river where they were spawned between May and July. Each river usually witnesses only one run of King salmon. Like all Pacific salmon, Kings spawn once and then perish.

King Salmon Habitat

King Chinook salmon use freshwater lakes, streams, and estuaries as their spawning and rearing grounds.

In the ocean, you can find juvenile King salmon near areas with abundant bait fish, typically at depths ranging from 30 to 60 feet.

During their migration, mature King salmon follow the shoreline of both the ocean and the river, navigating their way back to their natal waters through their strong sense of smell.

King Salmon Diet

  • Ocean: Herring, Sandlance, Squid, Crustaceans, and more.
  • Freshwater: Sexually mature fish in the rivers do not feed.

King Salmon Distribution

The range of King salmon stretches across North America, from the Chukchi Sea, located between Alaska and Russia above the Bering Strait, all the way south to Monterey Bay in California.

Alaska King Salmon Fishing

When is King salmon season in Alaska?

The Alaska King salmon fishing season typically runs from May to early July. However, it’s important to note that the specific dates can vary depending on the region and fishing method.

How to catch Alaskan King salmon

There are several effective methods for catching King Chinook salmon, including:

Saltwater Trolling

  • Rod: An 8-9ft, 12-25lb rod with a bait caster reel. This type of rod should have both strength and flexibility for a good fight.
  • Types of terminal tackle: Troll Herring, Cut Plugs, Hoochies, Flies, Spoons, Flashers, Divers, Mooching Rigs, and Threaded Herring.

River Fishing from the Bank

  • Spinning Rod: An 8-9ft, 12-25lb rod with a reel featuring a good drag system.
  • Types of terminal tackle: Eggs (where legal), Spoons, Imitation Egg patterns (yarn), and sometimes a bobber with eggs or herring, depending on the location and current.

Fly Fishing

  • Rod: An 11-12ft, 8-10wt rod with a decent reel equipped with a good drag system.
  • Types of terminal tackle: Streamers, Egg patterns, and flash flies.

River Fishing from a Boat

  • Types of terminal tackle:
    • Back Bouncing: Cheater (with eggs when legal) and a weight, or straight bait and a weight.
    • Back Trolling: Plugs.
    • Anchoring Up: Spinners, Eggs (where legal), and/or plugs depending on the current.

Fishing Techniques

Saltwater:

  • Divers
  • Downriggers
  • Mooching

Freshwater:

  • Bank Fishing – Spinning/Fly/Bait Caster
  • Boat Fishing – Back-Bouncing, Back-trolling

Frequently Asked Questions About Alaska King Salmon

What is the state fish of Alaska?

The King salmon holds the distinction of being the official state fish of Alaska, a designation it received in 1962.

Where does most King salmon come from?

The majority of Alaskan King salmon comes from the wild and is caught in the surrounding waters of the state, including the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, and the Aleutian Islands. These fish undertake extensive migration, spending several years in the ocean before returning to freshwater rivers and streams to spawn.

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How many King salmon can I catch in Alaska?

The number of King salmon you can catch in Alaska depends on various factors, including fishing regulations in the area, the size of the fish, and the number of anglers present. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game manages the state’s fisheries, setting limits on the annual catch to ensure sustainable populations. These limits can vary between different rivers and streams and may change annually based on the health of the salmon populations in Alaska.

Is King salmon the same as Chinook?

Yes, King salmon and Chinook salmon are two names for the same species of fish. The scientific name for this species is Oncorhynchus tshawytscha. The term “King salmon” is predominantly used in the United States, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, while “Chinook salmon” is more commonly used in Canada.

What sets King salmon apart from other salmon species?

King salmon distinguishes itself from other Pacific salmon species in several ways:

  • Size: King salmon are the largest among the Pacific salmon species, usually weighing between 30 and 80 pounds. In comparison, other species such as Coho and Sockeye salmon typically weigh between five and 15 pounds.
  • Flesh: King salmon boasts a rich, oily flesh renowned for its flavor and texture. In contrast, species like Sockeye and Pink salmon tend to have leaner and firmer flesh.
  • Life Cycle: King salmon have a longer life cycle, with certain populations living up to seven years. They spend more time in the ocean, feeding and growing, before returning to their spawning grounds.
  • Habitat: King salmon are typically found in large rivers and coastal areas, while species like Pink and Chum salmon are more common in smaller streams and tributaries.
  • Market Value: Due to their large size and desirable flavor, King salmon is highly valued and considered the most valuable among the Pacific salmon species.

How far can King salmon travel?

King salmon are famous for their long migrations from saltwater to freshwater for spawning. They are capable of traveling long distances during their life cycle. For instance, Yukon River Kings may cover up to 2,000 river-miles in just 60 days without consuming any food.

The specific distance a King salmon can travel depends on various factors, including the population, the location of their spawning grounds, and the condition of the river or stream they are navigating.

What is the record for the biggest King salmon caught?

The world-record King salmon was caught in 1983 by Les Anderson in Soldotna, AK. Anderson’s catch weighed a whopping 97 pounds and 4 ounces, measuring nearly 5 feet long with a girth of 37.5 inches. The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) certified the fish’s weight, as they are responsible for maintaining fishing world records.

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Are there more male or female King salmon?

During spawning, male King salmon typically outnumber female King salmon. Female King salmon also take longer to reach maturity than their male counterparts.

What are Jack salmon?

“Jacks” or “Jack salmon” refer to male King salmon that return to their spawning grounds one year earlier than the typical age of maturity. Jack salmon are usually small, weighing between one and five pounds. They are easily distinguishable by their relatively small size and early arrival.

Which King salmon varieties taste the best?

Winter King, Feeder Kings, and Troll-Caught Kings are considered the most delicious varieties of King salmon. These immature Kings, except for white Kings, are caught offshore in saltwater.

Why is my salmon white instead of pink?

If you have caught a white King salmon, consider yourself lucky! These fish are rare and possess a genetic mutation that affects the color of their meat, resulting in white flesh instead of the usual pink. It’s worth noting that the mutation only affects the muscles, and the fish appears indistinguishable from regular Kings on the outside. White Kings are highly prized for their flavor.

How to cook Alaskan King salmon?

There are numerous ways to prepare and cook Alaskan King salmon, depending on your preferences and culinary skills.

Grilling or broiling King salmon with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and lemon juice is a popular and straightforward method that allows the natural flavors to shine through. This technique also achieves a crispy, golden-brown crust.

Another favored cooking method involves baking King salmon in the oven with a variety of herbs and spices, such as dill, garlic, and paprika. This yields a moist and flavorsome fish that pairs well with sides like roasted vegetables or a simple salad.

Smoking King salmon is an adventurous option, infusing it with a rich, smoky flavor and a tender texture.

Additionally, King salmon can be poached, steamed, or pan-seared, offering versatility in preparing the fish. It can be served with various sauces, including hollandaise or teriyaki.

Can you eat King salmon raw?

While it is possible to consume King salmon raw, like any raw fish, there is a risk of harmful bacteria and parasites. To mitigate this, it is generally recommended to cook King salmon to an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C) to ensure its safety.

Where to Fish for King Salmon in Alaska: Prince of Wales Island Specific

On Prince of Wales Island, there are no wild spawning populations of Alaska King salmon. At Hook’d Up Bar and Grill, our King salmon fishing is exclusively done through saltwater trolling around the bays, inlets, and open ocean surrounding the island.

For the best fishing experience on Prince of Wales Island, we recommend fishing between mid-June and July.

Please note that salmon fishing trips at Hook’d Up Bar and Grill are all-inclusive. We provide all the necessary gear, tackle, bait, licenses, stamps, and tags required for your fully-guided sport-fishing adventure with us.

We stay up-to-date with all fishing regulations specific to our area, including any daily emergency orders that may impact your fishing trip, so you can focus on enjoying the experience.

However, it’s crucial to be aware that fishing regulations in Alaska can be quite complex. Bag limits, fishing techniques, and bait/tackle rules for different fish species (excluding halibut) can vary from location to location. Therefore, always ensure you are familiar with the regulations and fishing reports for each day and area you plan to fish.

As the angler, it is your responsibility to know and comply with all fishing regulations, including daily emergency orders. You can find emergency orders for Prince of Wales Island here. For the rest of Alaska, you can refer to this map.

Fish responsibly, enjoy your journey to the land of King salmon!