Alaska King Salmon Fact Sheet

Guest Russ Andrus Alaska King Salmon fishing

Names

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

King Salmon Description

Color & Markings:
Black irregular spots on their back, dorsal fins, and both lobes of the tail fin.

Black gums and black mouth under the tongue.

Size:
36+ inches and 30+ lbs at maturity.

Distinguishing Features:

  • The only Pacific salmon with both black mouth and black gums.

King Salmon Life Cycle

Spawning:
King salmon spawn in relatively deep, fast moving freshwater rivers.

Rearing:
In Alaska, King salmon eggs generally hatch in the late winter or early spring. After emerging from the gravel, the fry divide into two groups, ocean-type and stream-type (most common in Alaska). Ocean-type fry undergo smoltification and migrate to the ocean. Stream-type fry remain in the freshwater for one full year before undergoing smoltification and heading for the ocean.

Maturation:
King salmon will spend anywhere from 1 to 6 years feeding in the ocean. Because they may become sexually mature anywhere between 2 and 7 years old, the size of the spawning fish can vary greatly. A sexually mature 2-year-old fish will likely weigh less than 4lbs, but a 7-year-old mature fish can easily weigh more than 50lbs!

King salmon return to the freshwater river where they were spawned between May and July. Each river usually has only one run of King salmon.

As with all Pacific Salmon, Kings spawn once and then die.

King Salmon Habitat

Fresh-water lakes, streams and their estuaries are the spawning and rearing grounds for King salmon.

In the ocean, juvenile fish are found where the bait fish are, generally between 30 and 60 feet deep.

Mature fish run along the shoreline both of the ocean and the river as they “smell” their way back to their natal waters.

King Salmon Diet

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

King Salmon Distribution

In North America from the Chukchi Sea (between Alaska and Russia above the Bering Strait) south to Monterey Bay, California.

King Salmon fishing Prince of Wales Island, Alaska

King Salmon Fishing

Best Fishing Dates: May to early July

Tackle:
Saltwater Trolling:
Rod: An 8-9ft, 12-25lb rod with a bait caster reel. The ideal rod has a good back bone a flexible tip. This makes it strong enough to land a big fish in a reasonable amount of time, while still letting you feel the fish, and enjoy a good fight.

Types of terminal tackle: Troll Herring, Cut Plugs, Hoochies, Flies, Spoons, Flashers, Divers, Mooching Rigs, Threaded Herring

River Fishing from the Bank:
Spinning Rod: An 8-9ft, 12-25lb and a reel with a good drag system. Some people prefer bait casters, but they take a little more skill to cast.

Types of terminal tackle: Eggs (where legal), Spoons, Imitation Egg patterns (yarn), sometimes a bobber with eggs or herring, depending on the place and current

Fly Rod:
An 11-12ft, 8-10wt rod with a decent reel that has 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

Other King Salmon Facts

  • “Jacks” are small Chinook salmon that mature after spending only one winter in the ocean before returning to spawn. They are generally male.
  • “Winter Kings,” “Feeder Kings,” “Troll-Caught Kings” – Immature kings that are caught off-shore in the salt water. These are the best tasting Kings (with the exception of white kings – see below).
  • Kings are the state fish of Alaska
  • Yukon river Kings travel up to 2,000 river-miles in 60 days to spawn — all without eating!
  • The all-tackle world-record King salmon was caught in 1983 by Les Anderson in Soldotna, AK. He caught 97lb. 4-oz monster from the Kenai River. The fish was almost 5 feet long and had a girth of 37.5 inches.
  • “White Kings” are King salmon that have a genetic mutation that results in white, rather than pink, meat. They are not albino fish, as only the muscle is affected. They look the same as regular kings on the outside. These rare fish are delicious!
  • When spawning, male fish usually out-number female fish.
  • Female fish usually take longer than males to reach maturity.
  • The species name for Kings, “tshawytscha” is the common name for Kings in Kamchatka, Russia.

Prince of Wales Island Specific

There are no spawning populations of Kings on Prince of Wales Island. All King fishing at Boardwalk Lodge is done by saltwater trolling around the bays, inlets, and sometimes open ocean around the island.

  • Best fishing Dates: Mid-June through July

NOTE: Salmon fishing trips at Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge 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. Additionally, we stay up-to-date on all fishing regulations for our area including any daily emergency orders that may affect your fishing trip, so you don’t have to.

WARNING: In terms of regulations, Alaska is one of the most confusing places to fish. Bag limits, fishing techniques, and even bait/tackle regulations, for any given fish species (except halibut) can vary from location to location. Depending on the body of water, and what species you are fishing, regulations can even change from day to day. Always be sure to check the regulations for every day and every area you fish. You, the angler, are responsible for knowing and following all fishing regulations including any daily changes released as emergency orders. You can find the emergency orders for Prince of Wales Island here. And for the rest of Alaska, you can select your region on this map.