Coho, also called "silvers" or "silver salmon," often spawn in the smaller streams and don't tend to use the larger rivers like chinook.

Oncorhynchus kisutch

Identification Characteristics:

  • Back and head dark bluish-green
  • Lower sides brilliant red to wine color
  • Gill cover reddish
  • Spots on back and UPPER lobe of tail fin only
  • Lower gum line is light colored
  • Range in length from 17 to 38 inches

Because spawning coho can be red in color, similar in size, and spawn or travel though the same streams, they can sometimes be confused with sockeye.

The onset of coho salmon spawning is tied to the first significant fall freshet. They typically enter freshwater from September to early December, but have been observed as early as late July and as late as mid-January (WDF et al. 1993). They often mill near the river mouths or in lower river pools until freshets occur. Spawning usually occurs between November and early February, but is sometimes as early as mid-October and can extend into March. Spawning typically occurs in tributaries and sedimentation in these tributaries can be a problem, suffocating eggs. As chinook salmon fry exit the shallow low-velocity rearing areas, coho fry enter the same areas for the same purpose. As they grow, juveniles move into faster water and disperse into tributaries and areas which adults cannot access (Neave 1949). Pool habitat is important not only for returning adults, but for all stages of juvenile development. Preferred pool habitat includes deep pools with riparian cover and woody debris. 

All coho juveniles remain in the river for a full year after leaving the gravel nests, but during the summer after early rearing, low flows can lead to problems such as a physical reduction of available habitat, increased stranding, decreased dissolved oxygen, increased temperature, and increased predation. Juvenile coho are highly territorial and can occupy the same area for a long period of time (Hoar 1958). The abundance of coho can be limited by the number of suitable territories available (Larkin 1977). Streams with more structure (logs, undercut banks, etc.) support more coho (Scrivener and Andersen

1982), not only because they provide more territories (useable habitat), but they also provide more food and cover. There is a positive correlation between their primary diet of insect material in stomachs and the extent the stream was overgrown with vegetation (Chapman 1965). In addition, the leaf litter in the fall contributes to aquatic insect production (Meehan et al. 1977). 

In the autumn as the temperatures decrease, juvenile coho move into deeper pools, hide under logs, tree roots, and undercut banks (Hartman 1965). The fall freshets redistribute them (Scarlett and Cederholm 1984), and over-wintering generally occurs in available side channels, spring-fed ponds, and other off-channel sites to avoid winter floods (Peterson 1980). The lack of side channels and small tributaries may limit coho survival (Cederholm and Scarlett 1981). As coho juveniles grow into yearlings, they become

more predatory on other salmonids. Coho begin to leave the river a full year after emerging from their gravel nests with the peak outmigration occurring in early May. Coho use estuaries primarily for interim food while they adjust physiologically to saltwater.

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