Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery
Pacific Region

Fall Bright Chinook Salmon

fall bright Chinook salmonFall-bright chinook, as their name implies, retain their "bright" silvery ocean color for weeks after entering fresh water. Spawning males turn dark green with rose-pink flanks. Females may have a duller version of the males' colors, but some acquire a brassy sheen. All races of chinook can be distinguished from other salmon by their gray gums and their tail fins, which have spots on both lobes.

Fall chinook typically spend 3 ½ to 4 ½ years at sea, returning to frest water as 4-5 year olds. In August and September fall chinook migrate upriver, sometimes swimming 60 miles in a day. They spawn in October and November.

Fall brights are presently the most abundant salmon in the Columbia River Basin, and numbers have been slowly increasing since the mid-1960s. This is mainly due to hatchery production, since little natural spawning habitat is left. Historically many fall chinook used to spawn in the main river stem, and most of this habitat has been altered by dams.

Tule Fall Chinook Salmon

Tule fall Chinook salmon are native to this part of the Columbia River and have historically provided food for people living along the river. Columbia River Indians called them mitúla, or "white salmon," because the flesh of the salmon is light colored when they return to spawn.

Chinook, or King, salmon are the largest of the Pacific salmon. The adults average 23 pounds and fish 50 to 80 pounds are not uncommon. All Pacific salmon are anadromous, meaning they spend their adult lives feeding in the ocean but return to their natal rivers to spawn. Both male and female
salmon die after spawning.

Unlike other Chinook, which spend weeks or months in fresh water before spawning, tule fall Chinook spawn quickly after reaching their home rivers. Their strategy is to convert as much of their fat and muscle as possible into eggs or milt. Thus, they typically appear darker and in worse condition when they arrive at the spawning ground than other types of Chinook.

Because of the migration pattern of the adult fish, this stock is a major contributor to the commercial, tribal and recreational harvest along the Washington coast and in the Columbia River.

Spring Chinook Salmon

When they first arrive in fresh water, spring chinook are greenish with paler flanks. As spawning approaches they become grayer and darker; spawning males can almost be black. Their bodies are slender and rounded in cross-section, whereas fall chinook are more slab-sided; this allows spring chinook to swim more easily in turbulent, fast-flowing water.

Spring chinook spend 1-5 years at sea. They migrate upriver from March to May and stay in fresh water for weeks or months before they are ready to spawn. Unlike fall chinook, spring chinook prefer to spawn in smaller rivers and side streams. Spring chinook fry spend over a year living in fresh water, and are aggressive to others of their kind.

Spring chinook used to outnumber fall chinook in Columbia River catches 2 to 1, but this is no longer the case. Because their fry spend a long time living in streams, spring chinook have been especially hard-hit by pollution and siltation of stream habitat. Upriver stocks–those that have to pass through several dams–are very low. Lower river stocks have increased since the 1950s, mainly due to hatchery production.

Last updated: February 21, 2012
Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery
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