Coho Salmon Facts
[Page updated: 6 July 2021]
Featured image above: Male Coho Salmon in dark form with red sides – ready for spawning.
What Ratings Do Coho Salmon Get?
Size: 7/10 Fight: 8/10 Difficulty to Catch: 7/10 Taste: 10/10 – seriously delicious!
Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), like other salmon have a variety of names they’re called in countries around the world. We list some below. USA and CANADA: Coho salmon; coho; silvers; blueback; hooknose; hoopid salmon. Russia: Belaya; kizhuch (кижуч). Japan: Gin-zake. South Korea: 은연어.
Oncorhynchus kisutch was first described by Johann Julius Walbaum in 1792. Coho salmon have a range that extends from Japan north to Russia and over to Alaska and California. The name ‘kisutch’ comes from the Russian name ‘kishuch’.
Coho are anadromous like all salmon and spend part of their lives in saltwater, then when spawning, they travel up freshwater channels to rivers where they were born.
Coho Salmon Info
APPEARANCE: In the ocean, where adult coho salmon spend their adult lives, they are silver-sided with a dark blue top (dorsal) area. Cohos are called ‘silvers’ for good reason.
Coho salmon have a light-colored mouth and white gum line. Teeth are medium-sized, and strong. Some dark grey or black spots can be found on the upper side of the tail. Spots can also be found on the back.
During the spawning phase, coho salmon change in appearance markedly. Color becomes darker, with females often darker than male cohos, but less dramatic colors (reds). Both genders have a hooked upper jaw called a ‘kype’ and in males, it’s more pronounced. In males, the spine may arch, really changing the look of the fish. Sides of the salmon during spawning turn saturated red with blue-green head and back. The belly turns dramatically darker.
On the table, coho salmon has a bright orange flesh – one of the best-tasting salmon species for sure. Flesh texture and delicate flavor make this one of the highly sought-after salmon. It’s a little known secret that coho salmon can be found slightly cheaper than king salmon or sockeye, and most people wouldn’t be able to tell any difference. The taste difference comes from the amount of fat content. More fat = better taste.
Coho Salmon are the second biggest of the Pacific salmon species.
Parr coho salmon are banded with narrow bars along the lateral line (see image below). These parr have larger eyes than other salmonids (members in the salmon family).
Salmon Fat Content (high to low)
Kind of like saying, best-tasting salmon are listed first…
- king salmon
ADULT LENGTH: Average length is around 24-35 inches and about 8 lbs. Of course, coho gets bigger as you can see in our records section below they can reach 36 lbs. that we’re aware of, but in general the measurements above are typical.
ADULT WEIGHT: 8-12 lbs. average weight, but as much as 36 lbs. in rare cases. During spawning, coho salmon can weight considerably more on average. Size is limited because they die after spawning – usually around 3 yrs old.
RANGE: Coho salmon have a wide range in the Pacific and northern oceans over to Asia. Coho salmon were introduced to the Great Lakes through two tributaries – Platte River and Bear Creek (Big Manistee River) in 1966, and have established successful breeding populations there.
Originally coho were discovered in the northwestern USA from central California’s San Lorenzo River, Santa Cruz County and further north up through waterways on the coast of Oregon and Washington State.
As anglers realized how delicious salmon were, and where they were found, coho and all salmon were overfished to the point we find ourselves now – severe reductions in salmon populations – especially in the southernmost rivers and tributaries.
From northern California to Oregon there were nearly 600 streams found with spawning coho salmon. A study in 1991 showed about half these same stream devoid of coho salmon.
HABITAT: Coho spawns in small coastal streams and the tributaries of larger rivers. They prefer areas of slower water with small to medium-sized gravel. Because they use small streams with limited space, they use many of these streams to successfully reproduce, which is why coho can be found in nearly every small coastal stream with a year-round flow.
Like all salmon, coho need saltwater and freshwater ideally. Though as mentioned, they have been successfully moved to the Great Lakes (freshwater). Born in freshwater on a bed of gravel, young salmon remain in freshwater for up to two years as they grow large enough to have a better chance of survival once they hit the open ocean where more predators are lurking.
Coho salmon are found in the highest numbers from Alaska to central Oregon State.
As silvers grow, and they reach the ocean, they eat a lot – and grow larger, gaining the majority of their weight during this time. Some cohos travel hundreds of miles out to sea. Others remain closer to their home tributaries.
After 18 months in the saltwater ocean, coho begin to return to their freshwater streams to spawn in fall and winter. This is the same in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and over to Russia and Japan. There are also a number of coho salmon farming projects going on in South America (Chile) and Japan.
DIET: Many studies exist covering diet and eating habits of coho salmon – especially pan-fry (hatchling) and parr (juvenile) coho salmon because there are intensive conservation efforts being implemented in many areas.
In freshwater streams after hatching, small coho salmon were found to be territorial, defending feeding areas from other fish and predators. Coho are able to swim quickly and strike at other fish, or maneuver in small turns to catch prey. Very small coho salmon eat zooplankton and very small insects and invertebrates. As coho develop and more into a saltwater environment, they are able to eat larger fish and other vertebrates and other animals like squid.
MORE INFO ON CHUM SALMON…
In the fall – usually September, adult sexually mature coho salmon about 3 years old, move from saltwater to freshwater for spawning. If the home stream for the salmon is short, coho don’t begin their migration up the streams until November to January. If the rivers are wide and deep, the salmon enter right away. If not, salmon may wait until a rain – so the water rises – and they can be more likely to get over obstacles like dams and other obstructions as the water velocity won’t be very fast.
Female coho choose a spot with small gravel stones they can move easily. Streams are chosen for their perfect flow rate – which provides adequate aeration of eggs and embyros, fry parr, and parr salmon. They sweep the small gravel – which travels in the current and builds a small pile and indentation for the eggs. Nests are called ‘redds.’ Once the eggs are laid and fertilized by males, they cover the eggs with small gravel and remain with the nest.
Only 100 or so eggs are laid in each redd by each female coho. Over the course of about 7 days, the female will make up to around 30 separate redds.
Depending on the temperature of the water, eggs hatch in about 45 days (48 days at 48°F, and 38 days at 51.3°F).
Alevins (hatchling coho salmon) stay in the gravel for up to 2.5 months until their yolk sacs are absorbed. Their golden color is marked by large parr marks and black retina.
Conservation of Coho Salmon
Because salmon consumption has become such an integral part of the world’s dietary considerations, there have been in the past, and are presently, many conservation efforts taking place across the globe. Coho salmon hatcheries abound in the northwestern USA, Alaska, and Japan has salmon farming. Freshwater management of coho salmon streams is in place in states – to help clear waters of obstructions and unnecessary dams that might inhibit salmon spawning. States have been acquiring new habitat where coho salmon can be raised, and inadequate habitat which has degraded over time has been restored in some cases. The Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF) started in 2000 by US Congress to help support salmon population growth and restoration of all salmon species.
Alaska coho salmon fisheries are known to be healthy and robust. The further one goes south in the USA, the more problems are evident. Coho on the Columbia River are part of the ESA – Endangered Species Act, as they are in central California and Interior Fraser, British Columbia.
Pre-spawn mortality is a problem along some rivers. This is where pre-spawning salmon swim upstream in freshwater channels after a rain shower. The rain creates many new run-offs into the stream, carrying with the rainwater many chemicals like pesticides from farms and mosquito control efforts, metals, and petroleum hydrocarbons (found in motor oil). Salmon slow down, and some perish shortly after swimming through the tainted water. You can see in the video below just how close salmon are to roadways which invariably collect engine oil.
Salmon Swimming Across Road Video:
Check Your Area for Salmon-catching Guidelines
It’s imperative to check the rivers you plan to fish for coho salmon because there are a number of them which have endangered species status and it is illegal to fish for them or catch them.
The best catching method that doesn’t affect coho salmon significantly is trolling. Fish caught out of season or other illegal fish can easily be released back to their habitat – usually to survive and spawn. Gillnets should be avoided at all cost, due to high bycatch of not only any untargeted fish species but birds as well.
Coho Salmon Conservation Efforts Outlook
Pre-spawn mortality as the result, primarily of exposure to metal and motor oil products in rainwater runoff can be devastating. Some models predict the extinction of coho salmon in the coming years. That would be tragic because, over time, many salmon conservation projects do succeed in increasing population growth. There is a special challenge in fixing rainwater runoff from entering streams all over the coho salmon’s geographic range. Please follow all suggestions for the area you’re fishing for coho and other salmon… all fish.
Where to Find Coho (Silvers) Salmon
Where Can You Find Coho Salmon?
USA Coho Salmon
From northern California to the furthest point on Alaska, you can catch coho salmon in the freshwater streams when they’re spawning.
WASHINGTON STATE RIVERS: Illwaco river starts producing Coho salmon catches in July of each year. In August the Quilcene River and all marine areas will become hot with spawning salmon preparing for their journey upstream. In September, big hooknose coho salmon will be at their peak at the mouth of rivers in salt and brackish waters.
Puget Sound – The following rivers are on fire with coho salmon in September: Carbon, Puyallup, Quilcene, Skagit, Snohomish, or Green rivers. Source – Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.
Columbia River Area – The Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers are all great places for catching nice hooked salmon in September.
By October, coho fishing is nearly finished, but some nice salmon can still be found in the following spots: Washington State coast: Especially Grays Harbor. On Puget Sound – toward the inner sections, try Marine Area: 8-11. Rivers still holding Coho in October are the Skokomish, Skagit, Carbon, and Green. In the Columbia River region in October – try Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers.
Coast: A few coho will still be caught in Grays Harbor. In the rivers coastal chinook run later than Columbia River or Puget Sound stocks. Try the Humptulips, Hoh, or Quilayute rivers for chinook. Good coho producers are the Chehalis and Satsop rivers.
OREGON STATE RIVERS: Fall Creek; Salmon River; Big Creek; Eagle Creek and all of the tributaries leading into them, far upstream.
Canada Coho Salmon
BRITISH COLUMBIA RIVERS: British Columbia’s Fraser Valley rivers and bigger streams are always good for Coho and other salmon. Tiell River and Cooper Creek of the Queen Charlotte Islands, the Lakelse River and Bella Coola/Atnarko in the northern mainland, and Kingcome, Kakweiken, Nimpkish, Oyster, Toba, Cowichan, San Juan, Squamish and Chilliwack in the southern region. Vedder River, and the Chehalis River are also known producers of big numbers of Coho Salmon. Big Qualicum River also probably deserves a special mention.
You may have this idea that the very far north – the Arctic region – will be devoid of coho and other salmon. However, there are coho found there every year in the farthest northern coasts of Alaska. Specifically, there are coho caught in Barrow, Alaska, Point Hope, and on the Mackenzie River, by Great Bear Lake.
COHO SALMON FLY FISHING
Coho salmon are declining, as are all salmon on the Pacific coasts and rivers leading into the ocean in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California over the past couple of decades. It’s a very sad state of things, but there’s always hope that numbers will increase. Populations seem to be at least maintaining right now.
Recently, the biggest Coho salmon ever was caught in Lake Ontario over on the East Coast. All salmon are under threat by invasive species – introduced in some cases – like the Asian Silver carp and Big Headed carp. While scientists are racing to catch up and counter the threat, we’re all watching closely with anticipation about what will happen. Will the carp destroy the coho’s and other salmon’s habitat and food sources?
Coho Salmon on the West Coast of the USA and Canada are declining or maintaining populations. For all anglers, the emphasis on conservation must be foremost in our minds as we fish for Coho this year and the years to follow.
Fly fishing for coho salmon before they enter their freshwater streams to migrate sometimes thousands of miles to their birthplace is the traditional method for taking these salmon.
During spawning, the salmon are at their most fit – great jumpers! Cohos remain strong for much of their journey up rivers and streams – and are aggressive toward flies, lures and baits of many different kinds. Floating a fly toward a coho salmon and the awesome hit and landing is what some of us live for.
Don’t forget to check the rivers identified above for the best time to catch coho salmon in your location. It’s very location-specific, and you can’t just watch for reports of ‘salmon’ fishing in general, and hope to catch cohos. Cohos run a bit later than the Chinooks. The best months in most areas for Coho salmon are October and early November.
What is the Best Fly-Fishing Equipment for Coho Salmon?
Angler’s packing 9 to 10-foot fly rods for 7-8 weight fly-fishing line will be on the right track. Reels need 150-200 yards (meters) on the spool. Salmon flies cover a massive range of styles, colors, and patterns. It is highly recommended that you bring a variety of flies – as in dozens – to make sure you have something to float by a hungry Coho that he finds appetizing!
Preferred flies vary by year, and often you’ll tie something on that nobody else is using, and you start landing coho. Bring a selection, and don’t be afraid to try a dozen of them out each time you go out on the water. I think this is one of the biggest faults of fishermen that I’ve seen – failure to try more and more different lures to see what’ll get hit. Sometimes it’s a matter of your fly invading their space – and they’ll attack anything. Other times, they respond to the pattern and will attack only something similar. Test many flies!
Fly fishing for coho salmon is one of our greatest pleasures. We hope you also pick it up and learn to enjoy it responsibly. Cohos strike hard, run fast and long, and are capable of aerial flips and jumps that would bring a smile to anyone’s face.
Coho Salmon Lures
Fishing for coho salmon is an absolute blast – but what makes it even better is catching a lot of fish. There are many techniques for catching salmon – and we’ll cover some of the best lures and rigs here for you.
If you’re fishing live bait – herring. That’s it. Fish it high, fish it low, but definitely fish it if you’re planning on using live or cut bait. Herring is probably the coho’s favorite and primary food while it can get it.
FIRST STEP – choose the right line: Green or High-Visibility Power-Pro Braided Line in the 65 lb. strength, just to make sure.
TROLLING? Trolling Rig to Try
Use a large rectangular flasher – and a 2-foot leader with a smaller lure on the end, or 3-5 inch herring or cut bait. Always use barbless hooks.
Or you can drag a big spoon down in deepwater -try a 5-inch silver spoon down around the bottom in seawater.
Which Spoons are Best for Coho Salmon?
Spoon Colors – Which are Best?
Chartreuse, Pink, and silver/gold spoons are all highly recommended by long-time coho salmon anglers. If in the open water (ocean) you can use a bigger spoon – 5 inches or so. If in the rivers or streams, knock it down a bit and go with 3″-4″ spoons to entice hits. Know that coho salmon are very aggressive in marine habitat, and less so as they enter the streams for spawning.
Coho Salmon Lures – KWIKFISH
KWIKFISH K14 – pink and chartreuse
These lures move crazily through the water, but should track on a straight line. Some adjustment of the screw-eye may be necessary to keep the KwikFish from spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Find the KwikFish K14 here >
Here’s the KwikFish Double Trouble – we love these colors, but you can also get one with pink/white.
Find the KwikFish K14 Double Trouble here >
NOTE – Dick Nite Spoons are phenomenal, and highly recommended as a lure you need to have in your box for ALL SALMON. However, the hooks are sometimes bent by big chum salmon anyway. Take the time today to replace the hooks on your Dick Nites for heavier, sharper 2/0 hooks (Gamikatsu here) and you’ll have more hookups for sure.
Best Coho Spoons – Dick Nite Spoons
The one color variation recommended by more anglers than any other we’ve seen, is the hot pink style Dick Nite spoon. Dick Nite spoons are lightweight and move at the slightest current. Great for trolling behind a boat or fishing from shore. Pick up a handful, or a dozen – some different colors – especially pink, silver, gold, silver and gold, chartreuse (puke green), etc.
Find the Hot Pink Dick Nite Spoon above here >
Dick Nite NICKEL Size 2 – Our Personal Favorite Coho Spoon
We have lost a couple of these buggers, so we must be down to two dozen in the tackle box. This is by far our most consistent coho salmon lure. When the current is fast, pull it slow and let it do the work. When the current is slow, pull it a bit faster. Vary the retrieve and you’ll get hook-ups.
Find the NICKEL Size 2 Dick Nite Spoon here >
TECHNIQUE – In shallow water, try floating jigs/plugs 1-2 feet under the surface of the water. Coho salmon just look up and sideways, they don’t look down. If your coho are all on the bottom – use a drift fishing set up with your mainline connected to a 3 line swivel. 1 foot of line leads to the sinker. 2-3 feet of leader leads to your Dick Nite Spoon.
NOTE – MAGIC JUICE – the one thing you can do to entice more hits on anything artificial you’re dragging through the water is to add some magic juice. There are many kinds, but here is one that works consistently and that we always have in the tackle box.
GULP! Magic Juice… by Berkely
Find the Gulp! Magic Shad Juice here >
Coho Size Records
There is some confusion happening re: world record coho catches sometimes. Recently in New York, an angler caught what he was sure was a huge coho salmon, weighing in at 35 lbs. 1-oz. The scale was certified, but the record was not recorded. Why? A biologist tested the fish and found it to be a Coho-Chinook hybrid fish. They’re mating with other species sometimes, and produce bigger fish!
World Record Coho – The current world record coho salmon was caught at the same Salmon River in upstate New York near Pulaski, on September 27, 1989 by Jerry Lifton. That big coho weighed 33 lbs. 4-oz.
Washington State, USA Coho Salmon Record – On November 11, 2001, the Washington State coho salmon record was set – and still stands. The fish was a whopping 25.27 pounds and was caught on the Quinault River by angler Brad Wilson.
Oregon, USA State Coho Salmon Record – The Oregon State record beat the Washington record, interesting enough – with Ed Martin, way back in 1966 (year I was born!), catching a 25 lbs, 5.25 oz. coho at Siltcoos Lake.
Alaska, USA State Coho Salmon Record – Mr. George P. Mann caught an 11.22 kg (24 lbs. 12 oz.) dog salmon at Gastineau Channel, Alaska, on July 20, 2001.
Photos – Coho Gallery
More photos coming – we are constantly updating this page and this website. Hold tight!
COHO SALMON SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION
Species: O. kisutch was first described by Johann Julius Walbaum, a German animal taxonomist who classified a few salmon species.
Full species name: Oncorhynchus kisutch
Resources – The vast majority of all information found on the pages of Salty101.com is from our personal experience, and that of a few close friends we rely on to help us round-out the articles. Below are some more official resources we utilized for creating this ultimate guide for Coho salmon. We also have viewed dozens of videos that helped fill in the details.
Check out our Salmon Fishing Guides here:
More Fishing Guides with All You Need to Know
Fishing Tacklebox Essentials
Fish Scale (Digital and up to 110 lbs.)
Florida Fishing Identification Booklet – 5×7″ Laminated (Waterproof)