Something of a newbie question here, but I have always been confused about the quality of river caught salmon meat for eating. I've read that the quality of the meat before and after they spawn is very doubtful, but presumably the quality of the meat when they first enter the river system is good since there are an awful lot of fisher people trying to catch them. So, just when does the quality start to deteriorate, and what are the signs of this deterioration? Is it only worthwhile to fish in the estuaries if you are looking for quality meat?
Along these lines, how long does it take a salmon to get to it's spawning grounds once it enters the river? I would assume for a coastal stream much less time then say having to swim up the Columbia then the Willamette.
Thanks in Advance,
That a great question. The freshest salmon meat comes from salmon caught in the ocean. I like to fill the freezer with ocean caught fish. I fish the river for salmon as they move in and watch their condition. The condition of the fish depends on the which river the fish are returning to (distance from the ocean), along with the time of year they return, and the water conditions.
Look at the difference between an up river bright and a tule. Both are chinook and both travel the Columbia system. The URB have to travel a longer distance some all the way to Idaho. When they enter the sytem they are usually in real good shape that's why the have that name (Up River Brights). Some folks fish for them in the Columbia just off the mouth of the Deschutes river with jigs and when caught they are fresh and bright.
The tule start coming in August and even when you catch them right near the mouth of the Columbia near Warrenton they can be an ugly brown color with white meat. The lower Columbia River Indians called the tule "mituli" or white salmon. The White Salmon River in Washington got it's name from the tule. They are ready to spawn when they enter the river because their home rivers are in the lower Columbia (below The Dalles). They are now raised in hatcheries in the lower Columbia to help out the fishing industry up north off Alaska because up there they are fresh.
A salmon, at least in my opinon, it not human food after it has spawned. The fish is spent and the body should be left in the river to provide nutriment for the river. Some of the things to look for on a fish for freshness are sea lice, scales, color, and condition of the fins. A lower quality fish is called a dark fish vs a chrome bright fish. If you see a dark fish and it's fins are ragged and there may be white sore looking spots, then that is a fish that should stay in the river. One thing to watch for if you are fishing rivers like the Sandy is where the fish are spawining. It is best to avoid these area known as "reeds". They are gravel areas that are not to deep. Sometimes you can actually see the fish spawning in them. Those are non-hatchery fish and it is best to aviod them.
I hope that helped and I din't ramble on too long.