Squaxin/WDFW delayed release coho

A couple of days ago I got a message from Andy Appleby(program manager resident coho program for WDFW) that that the first group of delayed release coho were released from the Squaxin Island net pens(joint Squaxin Tribe/WDFW). The second group will be released in about two weeks. These coho are 6" and some fish have acoustic tags to get data on movement and survival of them in South Sound. Approximately a total of 1.8 million coho will be delayed release again this year.

If any of you fly fishers see these coho from now through next winter, contact Andy([email protected]). Send him the location of sighting, estimated number of fish, and their activity. Any information that we can provide should help Andy better understand and manage the resident coho fisheries.



Triploid, Humpy & Seaplane Hater
You are a great source of information for the folks who enjoy fishing Puget Sound. Thanks for sharing.


Native Trout Hunter
I was out fishing in the sound yesterday and spotted that some (1000 + probably a lot more) of those Squaxin Island fish in the Gig Harbor area. They about 6" on average but there appear to be some 8-10" fish mixed in. They were rising everywhere and made if very difficult to get to the cutthroat. I will send Andy an email to let him know the specifics.

That is great that you sent Andy information on your sighting of delayed release coho. I'm sure it will be appreciated! Last Friday there was a 1/2 mile shoreline in Case Inlet that was boiling with large schools of Squaxin Is. net pen delayed released coho(6"). They have been in that area for the last week but not in such large numbers. I doubt that they are the same fish which you saw but who knows! Maybe the fish that you saw are just a group of fish that decided to head north for some reason.

Delayed release coho(usually 250,00 fish) are also turn loose from Minter Cr. normally sometime in June. The fish that you saw could be from that site if they were released early as were the Squaxin Is. net pen fish.

The movement of delayed release coho is not very well understood and is why the WDFW is trying to track their migration in Puget Sound.



Active Member
keep in mind that coho, chinook, chum, and pinks, outmigrating from the rivers...both wild and hatchery, are currently in the sound in large numbers. These fish, especially the coho, are approximately the same size as the delayed release fish, and would be very easy to mistake for delayed release fish.
East side of Area 9 beaches are full of 6" feeding pink salmon smolt right now...at least I think they are pinks, hard for me to tell even up close after one attached itself to my 2.5" fly.

TomB, do coho and chinook smolt have black inside mouth?


Active Member
salt dog-

short answer-inside of mouth coloration is not reliable for fish at this size class.

Long answer-

Glad you asked. I have been id'ing smolts for the last 3 weeks (since i got back from school) and all last summer. After handling thousands of fish, certain traits have emerged as consistent indicators of species ID. None are 100% effective, but together they work pretty well. Here goes. I will list species next to commonly confused other species. * next to trait that is most reliable FOR NONLETHAL FIELD ID (there are other more precise measures which are very hard or impossible in the field).

Chinook vs. coho
CK-parrs extend past lateral line and are wider than gaps between
CO-parrs extend past lateral line and are narrower than gaps between
CK-leading edge (bottom edge) of anal fin does NOT extend past rear attachment point of anal fin*
CO-leading edge (bottom edge) of anal fin extends past rear attachment point of anal fin*
CK-leopard spots, not regular
CO-very regular "pepper speckle spots" on back
CK-smaller eye proportional to body (need side by side for this one)
CO-bigger eye proportional to body (need side by side for this one)
CK-generally more brown back than coho
CO-generally more green back than chinook

Group attributes: generally deeper bodied, parrs apparent in bigger fish, often bigger average size than pink and chum

Pink vs. Chum
P- no parr marks
CH-narrow parr marks which extend only to lateral line (not apparent on bigger smolts~90mm+)*
P-no spots or marbling on back- uniform color
CH-melanophores/marbling on back and or fine speckles (less present on larger fish, not always present at all)*
P-scales barely distinuishable or very small on larger fish*
CH-scales distinuishable, much larger than chum scales

Group attributes: slender, parrs on chum not apparent in larger smolts, less apparent speckling in chum than in above group

Sockeye- rarely seen in Puget Sound Nearshore, parrs irregular and not in a line...bigger than most other smolts

Trout vs. Salmon
1. overall body shape
2. presence of orange under gills in cutthroat
3. dorsal fin attachment length is greater than anal fin attachment length in trout, less in salmon*

In area 9 right now, I have observed all species in good numbers over the last few weeks. The 6" fish that you observed jumping sounds like coho and or chinook because few of the chum and pinks get that big before dissapearing from the nearshore (heading out to sea), that being said, it could be any species.

Great info Tom, thanks. :thumb:
Except now I will need to bring a copy of your ID comparison info to the beach with me until I get the hang of it. :beathead:

Now for the $money question, are Coho and Chinook cannibals?

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
A question that I have about the "resident coho '' fish programs, like the delayed released fish; what impact do these fish have on wild fish and the forage base for wild fish? It sounds like alot of "competition" is being added to the mix.

Steve Rohrbach

Puget Sound Fly Fisher
Salt Dog, based upon my observations at a Central Sound beach last Sunday, they are clearly cannibals. I saw large blackmouth and some reasonably sized coho slamming the 4" to 6" smolts all over the beach. I have never witnessed that much activity in Puget Sound.
Steve Rohrbach said:
Salt Dog, based upon my observations at a Central Sound beach last Sunday, they are clearly cannibals. I saw large blackmouth and some reasonably sized coho slamming the 4" to 6" smolts all over the beach. I have never witnessed that much activity in Puget Sound.
Steve, I can only imagine that the carnage made you heart soar and your casting arm tremble. :)
Bob Triggs said:
A question that I have about the "resident coho '' fish programs, like the delayed released fish; what impact do these fish have on wild fish and the forage base for wild fish? It sounds like alot of "competition" is being added to the mix.
Good question Bob. The smolt I saw close in to the beach were feeding voraciously on small amphipods. I would gather pen reared coho would compete for the feed with the river bred fish. Is there enough to go around? I don't know; I hope so.
I noticed many scattered schools of fish on the surface in Case Inlet off Dougal Point over the past couple of days. Some were close to shore but I couldn't see their size. The seals were very active but very few gulls.

John P.


Sculpin Enterprises
Similar concerns to Bob's have been raised over the potential impact of huge releases of chinook smolts from hatcheries along the Columbia on the wild smolts. There are concerns that the Columbia estuary, which supports these guys before they head out to sea, may not be able to sustain all these fish. Even if wild fish are better competitors one on one than hatchery smolts (and that is an assumption), they could just be swamped by the sheer numbers of hatchery smolts.

I guess that the answer to Bob Trigg's question depends on how altered you think the marine environment in the Puget Sound is. On the one hand, the number of outmigrating salmon, even with all the hatchery fish, would appear to be far fewer than this system used to sustain before the 4Hs. And, you could argue that the decimation of rockfish and cod stocks in the sound has removed potential competitors/predators from the system. On the other hand, shoreline modifications (bulkheading, dock development, loss of saltmarsh/eelgrass/estuarine habitat, etc.), lethal and sublethal impacts of pollution, and overfishing of most breeding stocks of a major forage fish, herring, might have altered the system so severely that it is no longer capable of sustaining the outmigrating biomass that it could historically.

What kind of evidence would you need to answer Bob's question? This isn't a clean experimental situation where you have nice control and experimental comparison. You would need to look for evidence consistent with competition - correlation, not necessarily causation. Finding skinny wild smolts or even dead smolts could be an indication of a problem, but we don't know how often this occurred before hatchery "augmentation". Plus, fish that aren't at their best or dead are quickly "cleaned up" by the many predators/scavengers in the sound; even if there were a problem, you might have a hard time finding the victims.

Another possibility would be to compare age-at-size data for wild fish collected in the sound before hatchery augmentation (from WFW's collections or UW) and at present. If hatchery augmentation is a problem, then you expect to find that the average wild coho collected in early July at present is smaller than they were historically. This comparison assumes that growth during the year that the coho spent is freshwater is the same now as it was in the past; given how even more modified that rivers are, this is doubtful assumption. It might be possible, with the correct sophisticated tools, to factor out the freshwater influence and just look at growth in the salt. Rather than looking at growth of the whole fish, you could focus on growth of the ear bones (otoliths) or other bones after the fish migrated into the salt. You can separate growth in freshwater from that in saltwater based on the presence of specific ions that are laid down as the bone grows (like tree rings). But this wouldn't be cheap and it depends still on finding the appropriate historical samples for comparisons.

Interesting question, Bob.



Active Member
Bob -
I agree an interesting and important question.

I have to agree with Cabezon that regarding competition the numbers of juvenile salmon swimming around in the sound is likely below historical abundances so the question becomes one of whether the productivity of the sound has been reduced to the point that competition between the hatchery and wild salmon is much of an issue. Doubt if there ever will be good info on the "before and after" so one is left with much inferences from what we do see today.

As we know the resident coho stay in the sound to feed. The fact that they continue to remain here feeding and grow quickly most years would indicate that there must some amount of "reasonable" food resources. Even more importantly we know that the bulk of their diet is krill/euphausids that first year. From the all the accounts that I hear about the growth of the "residents" seem to be about the same as they were at the start of the delayed release program - certainly about the same as the fish that I remember from the 1960s. Looking at growth rates of the ocean run fish over time would be much more difficult due to the impacts from the selectivity of the gill net fisheries - the smallest fish escape to spawn leading to smaller fish over time. The salmon that they would be competing most directly would be the pinks and chums which seem to be experiencing reasonable survival.

In short while competition is and should be a concern and be watched closely it doesn't seem to be "excessive" at this time. Of course as often is the case it really comes down to what sort of risk/benefits we are willing to live with. Of course it would be better for the wild fish if there were no hatchery fish released. It would also be better if there were no fishing. How much risk for each activity (hatchery releases and fishing) are we each willing to accept for the benefit of continuing to fish?

One aspect folks haven't really touched on much is the potential predation by those delayed released fish. What little "data" there is shows that they don't eat salmon smolts. However the experience of most anglers show that at least some years the predation by those fish can be significant. In 2001 of the summer resident coho that killed in the boat I was fishing the large majority of the fish that had fish in their stomachs had consumed juvenile salmon - chinook and coho. Most often an individual stomach would have 3 to 5 young salmon. Yet last year in even a larger sample size I didn't see one juvenile salmon. in 2002, 2003, and 2004 find a juvenile salmon in the stomach was very rare in my experience. It looks to me that most years predation is either a short term action or not much of a problem however some years it may be significant.

Other observations?

Tight lines