Who's swimming right now?

  • You are responsible for your party’s safety at all times. Maps and directions are provided for general reference only, and should be verified prior to trip.
  • Obey all signage and respect all private property boundaries. Park carefully and in designated areas, whenever possible.
  • Always exercise caution around water – rivers are cold, and even slow moving water can be dangerous.
  • Be quiet and still around salmon, and stay out of the water, so as not to disturb redds (nests) or spawning fish. Leave pets at home whenever possible and always keep pets out of the water. 
  • Bring binoculars or a camera for better distance viewing. Sunglasses may help reduce surface glare and make it easier to see fish.
  • Pack out all litter, and pick up a little along the way.

Chinook (also called “king salmon”) are the largest salmon species in the Upper Columbia, being larger and deeper bodied than coho and steelhead. Like other salmon species, Chinook are anadromous meaning they spawn in freshwater streams and rivers and rear in the ocean. Most Chinook are between 3-4 years when they return from the ocean to spawn. Chinook have two major life history strategies in the Upper Columbia, with an early group migrating upstream from the ocean as adults early in the spring/summer (May-June) (called “Spring Chinook”) and a later group migrating later in the summer (“Summer Chinook”). Spring Chinook tend to move up farther in the river system and hold in the river throughout the summer then spawn in the late summer. Summer Chinook, because they migrate later in the summer when flows are lower, cannot migrate as far up in the rivers and therefore hold for a shorter time and then spawn in the main river channels further down in the river system. The two groups are also distinctive in their rearing strategies. Summer Chinook spend very little time in the river after hatching and before moving to the ocean (so called “ocean-type”).  Spring Chinook tend to spend an entire year in local rivers and streams before moving to the ocean (so called “stream-type”). Because of these differences the two groups have become independent units of the species (called “Evolutionarily Significant Units” or ESU).

Spring Chinook in the Upper Columbia region are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Summer Chinook are not listed.

Coho (also called “silver salmon”) were once considered extinct in the Upper Columbia but were reintroduced into the Wenatchee and Methow rivers by the Yakama Nation fisheries program in 2012. Coho spend about half their life rearing and feeding in low velocity streams and freshwater tributaries and the remaining half in the ocean (1-2 years). They are darkly colored with a reddish-maroon color on their sides when they return to rivers to spawn. Most coho return to spawn at age 2-3 and are therefore one of the smaller species if salmon (6-12 lbs.). Coho are a winter species and spawning occurs from November to January.

Coho are not currently ESA listed in the Upper Columbia.

Sockeye salmon are a lake-rearing salmon that return to Lake Wenatchee and the Canadian lakes of the Okanogan river each year. Like coho, sockeye spend about half their life rearing in freshwater and half in the ocean and are smaller than other sea-rearing salmon species when they return as adults (5-15 lbs). They typically spend 2-3 years at sea before returning to spawn in the summer. Spawning sockeye have a distinctive coloring, with a vibrant red body and greenish brown head.  Sockeye spawn in lakes or in the rivers entering the lakes so that their offspring can use the lake for rearing. Once hatched, juvenile sockeye will stay in their natal lake habitat for 2-3 years. Landlocked sockeye that don’t migrate to the ocean also exist in the Upper Columbia (e.g. Lake Chelan) and are called “kokanee.


Sockeye are not currently ESA listed in the Upper Columbia region but are in other regions.

Steelhead in the Upper Columbia are one of the most unique salmonid species. Steelhead are the same species as rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), however unlike rainbow trout steelhead migrate 500 miles to and from the ocean. Interestingly, the offspring of two steelhead can stay in freshwater and become resident trout, and two offspring of resident rainbow trout can create a steelhead. Steelhead have a longer, skinnier body shape than coho and Chinook salmon, and have dark spots scattered over the entire fish, including the tail, with a distinctive wide red stripe down their entire body. Steelhead migrate from the ocean as adults during the winter months and hold in the mainstem Columbia or the lower rivers before moving upstream in the spring to hold and then spawn in the summer. Juvenile steelhead spend between 1 and 4 years in freshwater streams and rivers before migrating to the ocean. They return to freshwater at an average age of 4-6 years. Unlike other salmon species, steelhead can spawn more than once in their life. In some cases this entails migrating to and from the ocean one or more times (a distance of over 500 miles from the Upper Columbia!). Repeat spawners are known as “kelts.”

Steelhead are ESA threatened in the Upper Columbia region.

Bull trout are members of the salmon family known as char, closely related to lake trout and brook trout rather than rainbow or cutthroat trout. Char (genus Salvelinus) in the Upper Columbia spend their entire lives in freshwater and are distinguished from trout and salmon by the absence of teeth in the roof of the mouth, presence of light colored spots on a dark background (trout and salmon have dark spots on a lighter background), absence of spots on the dorsal fin, small scales, and differences in the structure of their skeleton. Bull trout, like other char, exhibit differences in body characteristics and life history behavior. “Fluvial” bull trout spend their entire lives in small streams and their size remains small (<5 lbs). “Adfluvial” bull trout migrate to lakes to rear and can grow to more than 20lbs. Some adfluvial bull trout in the upper Columbia even migrate to the mainstem Columbia River and can travel long distances prior to maturing and spawning. Bull trout generally spawn higher in the watershed than salmon and steelhead, utilizing small cold-water streams. They are known to live as long as 12 years and can spawn multiple times during their life.

Bull trout are ESA threatened in the Upper Columbia region.

Comments are closed.