0 Comments K'Dee Miller
Silver salmon (or commonly referred to as Coho), are an anadromous fish species, or one of the five species of Pacific salmon that migrate to salt water, then return to fresh water when it’s time to spawn and die.
Silver salmon can be seen across California, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. Silvers, although sold commercially, do not bring the high prices that reds (sockeye) or kings (chinook) salmon do, but as for sport-fishing, they’re one of my favorites. And I’m not alone.
Along with king salmon, silvers are one of the most sought after species when it comes to sports fishing. Both species actively bite on flies, spinner baits and live bait when in salt water. But when they enter fresh water they stop feeding and focus solely on spawning.
Silvers arrive in Alaska at varying times during the summer depending on locale. But when it comes to the Talachulitna River, a tributary in Southwest Alaska where I started Talaheim Lodge, our silvers return from end of July through August.
The average size of females in the “Tal” River can be 8-10 pounds and 24 inches in length. Males tend to get slightly larger, and can reach to 18 pounds. But in Southeastern Alaska,
Silvers can get as big as 25 pounds.
This species arrives in fresh water bright silver in color, but quickly their sides began to color red and their heads greenish-brown. This can be confusing because often times our “Silver” salmon might look a lot like our “Red” salmon, but that’s why we have top-notch guides at Talaheim, to teach these kind of subtilties.
During the silver salmon fishing run around 2,400 eggs are dropped by the female and after the male has covered them with his milt, they are buried under sandy gravel where they’ll remain until spring. Come spring, hatching takes place and these salmon fry live in the Tal for up to three years, seeking calm waters away from flooding. Then, as a group, they migrate down river and into the sea. Most silvers remain in the sea for approximately eighteen months before returning to the rivers, to their place of birth, to spawn and then die.
How do they know which river is theirs? Well, I’ve been told that salmon can smell their way home like a drunk can smell their way to a bar. And since Alaskan silver salmon populations remain quite healthy, and so do bars, I’m just going to run with this analogy.
As a lodge owner, I get a lot of interest from sports-fishermen who want to go after silver salmon as well as rainbow trout. This request is easy for us to accomplish at Talaheim Lodge because our silvers start to run toward the end of July and through August. Which is also when our rainbow trout have gained 20-30% of their spring body weight from feasting on salmon fry and roe throughout the summer months.
Now, enough about the species, let’s focus on the catching!
Silver salmon are one of the most aggressive salmon species to catch with a fly or spinning gear. Since I am a fly fisherman at heart, and since Talaheim Lodge primarily focuses on fly fishing via helicopter, I’ll begin by focusing on the right flies for silver salmon.
Forty years ago, when I started Talaheim Lodge, we most commonly used “Coho flies” for silvers. Simply put, a Coho fly consisted of long strands of deer tail hair, dyed brightly – in red, green, blue, you name it.
Now, there’s a well known saying among our fishing guides when it comes to Silvers; “Start with pink. When that no longer works, switch to pink.”
Then came the invention of the bunny bugs, which was just colored bunny fur. These seemed to work well. Then trout fishermen who were fishing with mice or shrew patterned flies that floated on the surface started catching silvers. So, to keep with the tradition of colorful flies for silvers, fishermen designed a pink mouse or what they now call a pollywog.
Leave it to fly fishermen to get all creative with their word choice. Where once we called them bobbers, now we call them strike indicators. Well, I call this new pollywog just a gay mouse!
But whatever you want to call them, silvers remain consistent strikers on the surface. They tend to pool up and stay still in slack waters with their tails slightly out of water. If you drop a straight or gay mouse in front of them, you’ll see lots of action!
Silver salmon are best eaten fresh as they do not have the fat content of kings or red salmon. If they are caught in the ocean, they freeze great. The flesh has a paler red color than sockeye or kings and the meat isn’t as firm, but they’re still delicious. Unless you overcook them! Then it’s mayonnaise time folks.
I’ll end on a story about silver salmon fishing. Since we specialize in helicopter fishing, often times Alaska Fish and Game will contract me to fly their folks around during the day to count fish runs, while my fishermen are out fishing.
One day, down by the brackish waters, we found about 50 fresh silver salmon pooled at the mouth of this river. We didn’t have to count fish the next day, so I flew a few of my anglers down toward the sea coast to try our luck with these ocean-fresh silvers.
Upon landing, I toss every fly I had with me to my anglers, but no luck. These salmons just hovered in the water and gave us the middle finger, or in this case, their middle fin. But in my fly box I carried an emergency option called a Mepps spinner size 00. Any respectable fly fisherman wouldn’t be caught dead with this on the end of his line, but one of these guys gave it a shot.
Suddenly every silver in the hole darted after that spinner. We ended up catching about six huge ocean fresh silvers before the little hook broke off. So much for my puritan fly fishing ways!