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Sockeye salmon identification

Sockeye salmon identification

Sockeye salmon
Oncorhynchus nerka

Sockeye Salmon
Sockeye, also called "red salmon," are one of the most unique of the Pacific Salmon in that they require a lake for part of their lifecycle. When they are young fish, called fry, they spend anywhere from a few months to a couple of years in their lake. Sockeye can sometimes be found spawning on the shores of the same lake where they spent their younger years. Sockeye almost always spawn in a water body that is somehow connected to a lake, be it a stream or the lake shore itself! Since we have many lakes in King County, and two large lakes in our survey territory, we often see spawning sockeye. (Remember, if it's a small fish, it may be a kokanee!) If you see a salmon, here's some tips to use to determine whether or not it's a sockeye...

Photos from Inland Fishes of Washington by Whitney and Wydoski, © 1979 University of Washington Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Washington Press.

Male Sockeye
Adult Male Sockeye Salmon.
Female Sockeye
Adult Female Sockeye Salmon.

Identification characteristics:

  • In males, back and sides are bright red to dirty red-gray, head is bright to olive green, tail is green to black
  • In females, colors not as bright, but red above lateral line
  • NO distinct spots on back or tail fin
  • Males have a large dorsal hump
  • Range in length from 20-28 inches

Spawn timing:

  • Early August through late December

Now that you know all about identifying salmon in streams, test yourself! Click on the mystery fish page to find out more!