Identifying Great Lakes Salmon & Trout: Atlantic, Chinook, Coho, Rainbow (Steelhead), Brown

Anglers on the Great Lakes have the opportunity to catch a variety of fish species - including many different salmon and trout. Often times these species can look very similar to one another. Below are some tips for identifying the most commonly caught Great Lakes salmon and trout species.

Atlantic Salmon

Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin (unless clipped), and 45 to 49 caudal peduncle (base of tail) scales. Caudal peduncle (base of tail) is generally narrow and tapered. Adults sometimes have X-like black spots on sides, mostly above the lateral line. Narrow pointed, vomerine tongue with four to six small teeth. Protrusion of upper lip usually extends to rear edge of eye or only slightly beyond. Dark pectoral fins, caudal fin (base of tail) may be slightly forked and nine or 10 rays in anal fin.

Atlantic salmon

Atlantic salmon mouth and tail drawings with descriptions

Atlantic salmon are often misidentified, often as Chinook salmon or brown trout. Below are some additional photos which can help show the difference.

photo of Atlantic salmon with cut left pectoral fin
Atlantic salmon with left pectoral fin cut

 

angler holding up an Atlantic salmon he caught
Angler holding up an Atlantic salmon

 

what Atlantic salmon look like in the fall
Atlantic salmon coloring in the fall and more torpedo-shaped

 

close-up of Atlantic salmon pectoral fin
Up-close shot of Atlantic salmon pectoral fin (intact)

 

Angler holding an Atlantic salmon
Angler holding an Atlantic salmon

 

Angler holding an Atlantic salmon with missing pectoral fin
Angler holding an Atlantic salmon with missing pectoral fin

 

Have you caught an Atlantic salmon? Contact your local DNR Fisheries biologist to provide information about your catch.

 

Chinook (King) Salmon

Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin (unless clipped), inside the mouth and games are black, small spots on upper back and tail, 15 to 17 rays in anal fin.

Chinook salmon

Chinook salmon mouth and tail drawings with descriptions

 

Coho Salmon

Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin (unless clipped), dark blue to green back with silver sides, white belly, wide caudal peduncle (base of tail). Inside of mouth is white and gums between teeth gray or white, but tongue may be black. Small dark spots on back, sides and typically on upper lobe of caudal fin (base of tail). Thirteen or more rays on anal fin.

Coho salmon

coho salmon mouth and tail drawings with descriptions

 

Rainbow (Steelhead) Trout

Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin (unless clipped). Mouth and gums are light, small spots along rays on entire tail, 10 to 12 rays in anal fin.

steelhead

Rainbow trout and steelhead mouth and tail drawings with descriptions

 

Brown Trout

Dorsal and adipose fin (unless clipped), broad square tongue with 11 to 12 large teeth, light pectoral fins, square tail and nine to 10 rays in the anal fin.

Brown trout

Brown trout mouth and tail drawings with descriptions

Illustrations courtesy of Joseph R. Tomelleri and copyrighted.