Stomach Pump – The Diet of Pacific Salmon

Any Sportsman knows that the secret to success lies in knowing your prey – know their patterns, their migration routes, their breeding habits and most importantly know what they eat. All animals on this planet need to consume food to survive. When you identify their food source, you identify their weakness.


Salmon are somewhat unique in that their diet varies as they move through different habitats. Their freshwater diet as young fry is completely different to their oceanic adult diet.


Pacific Northwest saltwater fishermen concern themselves with five habitat zones that Pacific salmon frequent. These zones are the shallow sublittoral, the nearshore sublittoral, the offshore pelagic , the suboceanic and oceanic.


At Escott Sportfishing Lodge in Haida Gwaii, most of our salmon fishing is done in the offshore pelagic and suboceanic zones. Here is a quick list of the feed that salmon prey on in these two zones:


Herring – A moderately sized baitfish that avoids the light. They have blueish-green backs and silver on their sides, with pearly eyes and black pupils. When agitated they surface in tightly packed balls, a sure sign of a salmon feed. Herring are the major food source for Coho and Chinook.

Smelt – Another baitfish, smelt are different from herring in their colouring and their their body shape. Smelt are thinner with an olive-green colouring. They tend to scatter, rather than bunch, when under attack. Favourite snacks of the Chinook or King Salmon.


Sand Lance – Often referred to as Candlefish, these little guys are even thinner than smelt. They tend to hide in kelp beds. They provide food for Chinook, Coho and Pnk salmon.


Squid – Juvenile squid are part of the diet of all five salmon species on the west coast, but Chinook are the only salmon that seek them out closer to shore. Hootchies are synthetic squid look-a-likes used heavily by commercial and sports fisherman along the coast.

Zooplankton – Tiny aquatic animals that have very little mobility and translucent bodies. They provide ‘low hanging fruit’ for young salmon entering the ocean from their fresh water streams.


Krill – Not just for whales, these little guy are about an inch long when they become salmon food. Their bodies resemble shrimp with multiple legs and creamy-translucent bodies. They have more motion than their underdeveloped zooplankton cousins.

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