Know your salmon species to avoid catching endangered coho

Have you noticed more people catching salmon in the Russian River this winter?

This doesn’t necessarily mean there are more adult fish returning. It’s more likely because they were confined to the mainstem of the river due to lower-than-average seasonal flow conditions. Coho salmon and steelhead spawn in tributaries to the Russian River, so in years where there is just enough rain to allow adult fish to enter the river, but not enough water to allow access to their spawning grounds, they may be forced to hold in the river for weeks or even months until streams become open to adult passage. In water years like this, it is more important than ever to be conscious of the impact of fishing on these protected species.

Concerned anglers will want to know that endangered coho are particularly vulnerable during periods of low flow during their spawning season. Anglers could easily catch one without intending to and, potentially, face penalties associated with harming them. Knowing how to identify coho salmon, steelhead, and Chinook is a critical skill for anyone fishing in the Russian River.

Before you head out to fish, take a moment to review your Russian River salmon species.

Anytime you catch a fish that looks like a salmon or steelhead:

  • Land the fish as quickly as possible
  • Have a rubber net ready for safe landing
  • Immediately check for an adipose fin. It will be intact on coho, wild steelhead, and Chinook. In order to avoid injuring or killing these protected fish: 
    • Keep the fish in the water at all times – even if taking photo
    • Carefully remove your barbless hook and release the fish as quickly as possible

Remember that targeting, harassing, or harming an endangered species is subject to prosecution under the law.

For more information on releasing fish in the best way possible, visit www.keepemwet.org

Finally, please help us spread the word by sharing this story with the hashtag #knowyourcoho

Please fish responsibly to help recover our Russian River salmon fishery!

About the California Sea Grant Salmon and Steelhead Monitoring Program

For more than a  decade, California Sea Grant’s Russian River Salmon and Steelhead Monitoring Program has been conducting broad-scale salmon and steelhead monitoring, along with specialized studies, in order to provide science-based information to all stakeholders involved in the recovery of these critical native species. Our program supports the Russian River Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock Program, the statewide Coastal Monitoring Program, the Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership, and other salmonid recovery efforts throughout the watershed.