Five species of salmon are native to the tidal waters of British Columbia. Largest is the chinook (known as “king salmon” in the United States), which grows to 30 kilograms (66 pounds) in local waters. Averaging 2–3 kilograms (4.4–6.6 pounds), sockeye salmon (red salmon) are the most streamlined of the Pacific salmon. When ready to spawn, the body of the sockeye turns bright red and the head dark green.
Chum salmon (dog salmon) are very similar in appearance to sockeye, and their bodies also change dramatically when spawning. Bright, silver-colored coho salmon (silver salmon) average 1.5–3 kilograms (3.3–6.6 pounds). Smallest are pink salmon, which rarely weigh more than four kilograms (nine pounds). Their most dominant feature is a tail covered in large oval spots.
Kokanee are a freshwater salmon native to major lakes and rivers of the southern interior. They are directly related to sockeye salmon, spawning in the same freshwater range, and look similar in all aspects but size—kokanee rarely grow to more than 30 centimeters (12 inches) in length.
Trout are part of the same fish family as salmon but, with one or two exceptions, live in freshwater their entire lives. Interestingly, the trout of western Canada are more closely related to Atlantic salmon than to any of the species of Pacific salmon detailed above. The predominant species is the rainbow trout, common in lakes and rivers throughout the region. Many subspecies exist, such as the steelhead, an ocean-going rainbow trout that inhabits rivers flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
Other trout species present include the bull trout, which struggles to survive through high levels of fishing and a low reproductive cycle. Throughout the mid-1900s, this truly native Canadian trout was perceived as a predator of more favored introduced species, and was mostly removed. Cutthroat trout, found in high-elevation lakes, are named for a bright red dash of color that runs from below the mouth almost to the gills. Colorful brook trout are native to eastern Canada, but are now widespread throughout lakes and streams on the Alberta side of the Continental Divide. The brown trout was introduced from Europe in 1924 and is now found in the Bow and Red Deer watersheds of Alberta. The lake trout, which grows to 20 kilograms (44 pounds), is native to large, deep lakes of the western provinces.
Other Freshwater Species
The whitefish, a light gray fish, is native to lower-elevation lakes and rivers across British Columbia and Alberta. Inhabiting northern waters are arctic grayling and Dolly Varden (named for a colorful character in a Charles Dickens story). Walleye (also called “pickerel”) grow to 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) and are common in sandy-bottomed areas of lakes in northeastern British Columbia and northern Alberta. The monster freshwater fish of western Canada is the sturgeon, growing to more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) in size and living for upwards of 100 years. The biggest of this species inhabit the Fraser River.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition