Sometimes referred to as “king” salmon, chinook are the largest salmon species. Adult fish can grow to over four feet in length. Their typical weight is 10 – 45 lbs., with a record of 126 lbs. The chinook has a greenish back, silver sides, and a silver belly. It is covered with black spots on its back, dorsal fin, and tail. Its mouth is black. The fish darken as they mature. By the time the males are ready to spawn, they are almost black and their snouts have twisted into hooks.
Chinook salmon usually mature in their third or fourth year; however it can be as early as the second year (jacks) or as late as the eighth. Chinook return to the Columbia in the fall, spring, and summer. Some types of chinook linger in deep pools in the river until the water is just right for moving on to their spawning grounds. Chinook are known as long-distance swimmers and will travel to the farthest reaches of the Columbia to spawn.
Females can dig and deposit eggs in several gravel nests (called redds). They can release from 3,000 to 7,000 eggs. Ocean-type chinook spawn in large rivers, such as the main stem of the Columbia or Snake rivers and migrate to the ocean in their first year. Stream-type chinook spawn in tributaries and remain in the stream one or more years before migrating.