Reeling ‘Em In: Salmonid 101: How to tell silvers from reds

I received a report last week that a couple of silvers had been caught outside the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon along with awandering sockeye and a pink.

I received a report last week that a couple of silvers had been caught outside the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon along with a wandering sockeye and a pink.

Two of those tips were spot-on while one had the credibility of the sighting of a Sasquatch kayaking off the Deep Water Dock.

Yes, two silvers and a red were landed. The other fish was a jack king misidentified as a pink by a 12-pack fueled line-flinger.

Right now, it would be a dufus move to fire off rumor flares signaling that a fleet of coho is about to sail into The Hole.

It might, however, be the perfect time to run an annual aide-mémoire on how to differentiate between the different species of salmon about to mix it up in our beautiful bay.

It may prevent you from embarrassing yourself in front of visiting kinfolk or friends after one of them busts your chops for telling an excited child that he/she just landed a silver when it was a ditzy pink.

So, here’s a quick way to tell the difference between chinooks, coho, pinks and sockeye.

King (chinook or blackmouths) salmon have a blue-gray back with silvery sides. They also have small, irregular-shaped black spots on their back, dorsal fin, and usually on both lobes of the tail along with a black mouth and black gums at the teeth base of their lower jaw.

Coho (silver) salmon have a greenish-blue back with silver sides. They have small black spots on their backs, dorsal fin and usually only on the upper lobe of their tail. They also have a black mouth with white gums at the lower jaw’s teeth base.

Sockeye (red or blueback) salmon have a dark blue back with silvery sides. There are no distinct spots on their back, dorsal fin or tail.

Pink (humpback) salmon have large spots on their backs and very obvious black oval blotches on both tail lobes. They also have very small scales and are idiots.

If you don’t think this quick tutelage will be of any help because you can’t even remember to bring your tackle box on a fishing trip, make sure to pick up a free Southcentral Alaska Sports Fishing Regulations Summary. It has pretty pictures of the fish we just discussed on pages 88 and 89. You can find the booklets at most sporting goods outlets vending fishing licenses.

The publication contains a plethora of information, including where different species can be found and lays out the rules for taking them. It’s a great guide.

Now it’s time to take a look at the fishing report for the week of July 9 to July 15.

Regulation Reminders:

King Salmon Emergency Order

Per Emergency Order No. 2-KS-7-11-18, effective June 2 through July 15, sport fishing is closed on the Anchor and Ninilchik rivers and Deep Creek drainages.

Per Emergency Order No. 2-KS-7-12-18, effective June 2 through July 15, king salmon fishing (including catch-and-release) in marine waters within 1-mile of shore from Bluff Point to the Ninilchik River is prohibited.

Within the 1-mile corridor, anglers should pay close attention to the closed waters surrounding the stream mouths.

Other Regulation Reminders

You are now allowed to snag fish in Kachemak Bay east of a line from Anchor Point to Point Pogibshi except for the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon (Fishing Hole), which only opens by emergency order.

China Poot personal use dip net fishery opened July 1 to Alaska residents only, upstream of the ADF&G markers. Personal use caught sockeye salmon must have both tips of the tail fin removed. Complete regulations are found on page 15 of the 2018 Southcentral Sport Fishing Regulations Summary booklet.

Lingcod season opened July 1. Hunters are reminded that the bag and possession limit is two fish and the minimum legal size is 35 inches with the head attached or 28 inches from tip of tail to font of the dorsal fin with the head removed.

Lingcod which are gaffed must be retained. A gaff may not be used to puncture any fish intended or required to be released.

The marine waters of Tutka Bay Lagoon within 100 yards of the hatchery net pens are closed to sport fishing for any species.

Saltwater Fishing


Halibut fishing was on a roller coaster ride with dips and highs due a mish mash of fair weather and blow outs lasting throughout the weekend. Limits were caught, some were not, but Dramamine sales remained steady. On the upside, some of the charters brought in a few beauties.

Reports of those bait stealing spiny dogfish (small sharks) have increased. They can be especially annoying when you are trying to smack halibut, but be nice and use your best catch and release practices when returning them to the water.


King trolling remains spotty. There were tales of a butt kicking bite east of the Homer Spit near Peterson Bay and Glacier Spit that fired up the fin chasers. Bluff Point also ponied up some action for a few. Dollies continue to make appearances on the ends of trolled lines.

Coho have been reported sneaking in and out of the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon as the chinook run holds a wake for itself. A variety of methods can work there, including Flash n Glo and Blue Vibrax spinners. Plug cut herring or cured eggs floating a couple of feet beneath a bobber will do the trick too. Hit them when the tides are changing out.

Dipnetting and snagging for stocked sockeye returning to China Poot has been good to smoking.

Sockeye and pink salmon have arrived in Tutka Bay Lagoon. This is a stocked fishery paid for by enhancement taxes on commercial fisheries. Anglers are reminded to avoid commercial boats operating in the area. No need to make them get their snark on.


Lingcod fishing has been fair for those willing to motor past Point Pogibshi to target them on the pinnacles south. There were isolated reports of anglers catching lingcod over the minimum 35-inch with head attached size limit.

There are continuing reports of a high number of juvenile lingcod being hooked while fishing for rockfish. This bodes well for the lingcod fishery. Please remember to carefully release all undersized lingcod and never use a gaff on a fish intended to be released.


Many fisherpersonages are landing rockfish during halibut or salmon trips.

Those delicious fish are found near rocky points and in kelp beds. The most happening places to target pelagic rockfish in Kachemak Bay are near Bluff Point and Point Pogibshi.

Give them a shot by trolling using spoons, tube flies, or herring. Jigs are also cool if you know how to use them.

Use deep-water release methods to release incidentally caught rockfish. Never heard of deep-water release for rockfish? For details, review the ADF&G Rockfish Conservation and Deepwater Release webpage. A 6-year-old can show you how to bring it up.


Razor Clam Emergency Order

Per Emergency Order No. 2-RCL-7-01-18 and 2-RCL-07-02-18 all Eastside Cook Inlet beaches from the Kenai River to the tip of the Homer Spit are closed to all clamming through Dec. 31.

The next clamming tides are cookin’ right now with all kinds of minus tides through the July 18.

Razor clams can be found on beaches along the westside of Cook Inlet and can be accessed by boat or plane. Popular razor clam beaches include the Polly Creek beach, Crescent River Bar, and Chinitna Bay. Boaters are advised to use caution and a ton of common sense before traveling across the Cook Inlet because of strong tidal currents and variable weather conditions.

Littleneck (steamer) clams hang out in the gravel beaches on the south side of Kachemak Bay from Seldovia to Chugachik Island.

Butter clams are found chilling on the islands in China Poot Bay and lurk up to around 2 feet deep.

Littleneck clams can be found in a variety of habitats from Jakolof Bay to Bear Cove. Check out new beaches for a better chance of finding them on sand less travelled. Typically, littlenecks are found shallower in the substrate, up to 8 inches deep.

Occasionally there are PSP advisories issued by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Contact the DEC at 907-269-7501 or visit the DEC PSP webpage for more information.

Other Saltwater Fishing

If you want to stay firmly ensconced on land or the weather is being a jackass, try fishing off the end of the Homer Spit. Walleye pollock, Pacific cod, Dolly Varden and a variety of flatfish share the same playground out there and are usually craving to gnaw on something other than each other.

Freshwater Fishing

Fresh Water Streams

Lay off the Anchor and Ninilchik rivers and Deep Creek drainages because they are closed to all sport fishing through July 15. You can make it for just a few more days.

Note: The Anchor River king count on July 9 was 12 with a total of 1,728.

On the same date last year, the count was 35 with a total of 5,058.

In 2016, same date, 50 passed for a total of 6,507. Ouch!

Lake Fishing

Most of the Kenai Peninsula stocked lakes have been stocked with rainbow trout. Fishing conditions should be good. Try fishing with dry or wet flies, small spoons, spinners, or bait. The 2018 Southcentral Sport Fishing Regulations Summary booklet contains a current list of lakes and the species that are stocked within.

Nick can be reached at if you have any tips, tales or printable rants.