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How Big Are Salmon? (Interesting Fish Facts)

How Big Are Salmon? (Interesting Fish Facts)

Salmon are one of the most popular game fish in the world. They can be found in both rivers, lakes, and the ocean and come in various shapes and sizes. 

Most of us have seen salmon weighing a couple of pounds, swimming around in the water, or being served on the dinner plate. But how big do salmon actually get?

King salmon are the biggest of the salmon family, reaching a maximum weight of about 125lb and a length of 60 inches. The smallest member, the pink salmon, can reach a maximum size of 15lb and about 30 inches. 

Keep reading this article and find out the maximum size of all size salmon types and their current world records.

What Is the Maximum Size of Salmon?

a happy angler on his boat holding a really big atlantic aalmon
Courtesy of Leif Krause

The Salmon family consists of six members; five Pacific and one Atlantic type. 

All of these six salmon species can reach different maximum lengths and weights, making these fish so extraordinarily versatile and exciting to both commercial and sport fishermen. 

It would hence not be fair to merely focus on the biggest type of salmon in this first section of the article! 

Instead, I thought it could be interesting for you, the reader, to know the maximum sizes of all six salmon types, as they really vary quite a bit. 

We’re talking differences of dozens of pounds and a few feet here! So it’s definitely worth differentiating between the types, in my opinion. 

So, without further ado, here is a list of the maximum weight and length of all six main salmon species:

Salmon TypeMaximum LengthMaximum Weight
King (Chinook)60 inches126 pounds
Atlantic65 inches110 pounds
Chum45 inches40 pounds
Coho45 inches40 pounds
Pink30 inches15 pounds
Sockeye32 inches15 pounds

What Is The Average Size of Salmon?

a trolling angler on a lake with an average sized salmon
Courtesy of Nathan Lawrence

Much their maximum size, the average size of the six salmon types also varies quite a bit. 

Additionally, it’s essential to remember that average sizes are just that; an overall average of the size of a fish species!

How small or how big the average salmon in any given population is will be determined by many factors, and obviously, the average size of one population can differ from that of another. 

Sometimes, sizes can even differ from one river to the next, even if the salmon that migrate up those rivers are closely related. 

Again, internal and external factors will be the reason for that! Some of them can include the following:

  • genetics
  • population size
  • food abundance
  • competition (from other salmon and other predators)
  • predation
  • size of the natal river
  • water depth
  • strength of current

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the overall average sizes of the different salmon types:

Salmon TypeAverage LengthAverage Weight
King (Chinook)25-35 inches10-20 pounds
Atlantic25-35 inches10-20 pounds
Chum20-30 inches8-15 pounds
Coho20-30 inches8-15 pounds
Pink15-20 inches4-6 pounds
Sockeye15-22 inches5-8 pounds

What Is the Biggest Salmon Ever Caught?

an underwater image of two migrating adult salmon in a river
Courtesy of Chris Walling (Find his pics on Instagram: @steel_snorkel)

In this article section, I will focus on the biggest ever salmon caught with rod and reel (It’s a sport fishing site, after all).

PRO TIP: You can read about the biggest ever commercially caught salmon further down in the article!

And as there are not one but six salmon types, it goes without saying that I will be listing the world record for each one of them. 

Let’s start with the two biggest types of salmon then:

World Record King Salmon

Everyone knows that king salmon can reach monster sizes, but the world record is a truly gigantic fish, even for a king!

Angler Les Andersson was fishing for salmon on the Kenai River in 1985 when he managed to catch the fish of a lifetime (or two). 

His enormous chinook salmon weighed in at a massive 97lb 4oz. Can you imagine hooking up to a fish like that?

While there are certainly bigger king salmon out there, actually hooking and landing one that almost weighs a hundred pounds is a real rarity, which is probably why this record hasn’t been broken yet. 

World Record Atlantic Salmon

Really huge Atlantic salmon aren’t as plentiful as they used to be, which explains why the world record for this salmon species is almost 100 years old.

Back in the day, the oceans and rivers were teaming with big salmon, so fishing back then must have been an absolute pleasure.

It was in 1928 that Norwegian angler Henrik Henriksen was fishing on the famous Norwegian Tana River and managed to catch an unbelievable Atlantic salmon of 79lb 2oz.

Weights like that are almost unheard of nowadays, so the question is if this record will ever be broken. Time will tell, I guess!

BONUS: The world record landlocked Atlantic salmon is a fish of 26lb 10oz that was caught on Torch Lake (Michigan) in 2010. You can read up on the topic of landlocked salmon by reading this related article!

World Record Chum Salmon

Now we move on to the somewhat smaller salmon types. First is the beautiful chum salmon.

The world record chum was caught in Canada by angler Tod Johansson back in 1995. 

He was fishing the Edye Pass in British Columbia when he hooked up to a chum salmon that weighed in at 35lb

It’s a big fish for a chum, but I think this record should be possible to beat! 

World Record Coho Salmon

The coho salmon record is another one for the US, and its weight is pretty close to that of the chum salmon.

Angler Jerry Lifton caught his world record coho on the Salmon River in New York back in 1989. The fish weighed 33lb 4oz.

The verdict for this record is the same as for the chum; bigger ones should be out there!

World Record Pink Salmon

The pink salmon is, by far, the smallest member of the salmon family, which the current world record reflects.

The biggest pink salmon ever caught is a 14lb 13oz fish that Alexander Minerich caught on the Skykomish River in Washington in 2001.

A 14-pound salmon doesn’t sound like much, but for a pink, it’s a really huge fish, and for this one, I am not sure if there’ll be a new world record any time soon!

World Record Sockeye Salmon

And last but not least, we have the gorgeous sockeye salmon.

As the world record will sow, this is yet another reasonably small salmon type, although I am convinced that bigger ones could and should be caught in the near future.

The current world record sockeye is a fish that weighed in at 15lb 3oz.

Angler Stan Roach caught it on the famous Kenai River in Alaska in 1987. 

RELATED READING: Want to find out even more about the different salmon types? Then check out this article as well!

How Heavy is a 40 Inch Salmon?

a happy angler with a 40 inch king salmon
Courtesy of Scott Collin

The weight of a 40 inch chinook will be somewhat higher than that of a 40 inch Atlantic salmon, as the body of the chinook is usually deeper.

The average weight of a 40 inch chinook salmon will be somewhere around 22 to 28lb, while a 40 inch Atlantic salmon will have an average weight of 20 to 25lb.

PRO TIP: Remember, though, that, no matter the type of salmon, a 40 inch pre-spawn female will weigh considerably more than a 40 inch post-spawner, as it won’t carry any of its eggs anymore.

How Long is a 50lb Salmon?

Once again, this will depend on the type of salmon. But the question itself is a very interesting one. Because no matter if the fish is a king or Atlantic, a 50 pound salmon will have a very considerable length!

If we start with the biggest of the two, the king salmon, a 50 pounder would have to have an approximate length of 48 to 50 inches.

An Atlantic salmon of the same weight would probably have to be even longer due to its somewhat more slender and torpedo-like body shape.

An educated guess would set the length of such a big fish at around 50 to 52 inches.

How Big Are Salmon in the Great Lakes?

a salmon angler on Lake Michigan holding a big king salmon
Courtesy of Mark Ehlbeck

The Great Lakes are home to 4 types of salmon, namely chinook, coho, pink, and Atlantic. 

While the average Great Lakes salmon weighs between 5 and 10lb, some lakes can actually produce pretty large specimens.

Lake Michigan, in particular, is known for its colossal king salmon.

In fact, the lake produced a new record for the Great Lakes and the state of Michigan in 2021. 

Michigan angler Luis Ricardo Hernandez Martinez booked himself a charter trip on Lake Michigan and got lucky enough to catch a king salmon of an incredible 47.86lb and 47.5 inches

I don’t know if 50+ pounders are swimming around in the Great Lakes somewhere, but as there is plenty of food in them for the salmon, it’s definitely possible!

How Big Do Salmon Get in Canada?

As salmon thrive in colder waters, it’s no surprise that all types of Canadian salmon can reach prodigious sizes. 

British Columbia especially is home to some pretty giant king salmon, as both the Canadian record and the current commercial world record were caught here.

The Canadian record king (or chinook) is a beast of 92lb that was caught in the region’s famous Skeena River.

The commercial world record is a king salmon that will leave you absolutely speechless! 

In the late 1970s, a commercial salmon boat caught a chinook behemoth that weighed in at an unbelievable 126lb

To this day, that’s the largest salmon that has ever been caught. But one thing is for sure; there are bigger ones out there somewhere!

How Big Do Salmon Get in Europe?

a european trolling angler on his boat holding a giant atlantic salmon
Courtesy of Leif Krause

Europe is home to some of the biggest Atlantic salmon on the planet.

The chances of catching a real giant are still good, even though their numbers have decreased for many decades in Europe.

However, they have made big comebacks in some regions and countries, and their numbers and sizes are steadily increasing there.

Today, the biggest salmon in Europe are found in Scandinavia.

The many rivers of Norway and Sweden that mouth into the Atlantic and the Baltic Sea hold huge specimens during the annual run of the salmon.

It is here that the fish of dreams can become a reality!

While the average-sized European salmon has an approximate weight of 10 to 18lb and a length of 25 to 35 inches, the true monsters of Sweden and Norway can get much bigger than that.

In Scandinavia, Atlantic salmon can reach lengths between 50 and 60 inches and maximum weights of 60 to 80lb. That’s massive!

How Big Do Salmon in New Zealand Get?

King salmon from northern California were introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century and are, to this day, the only salmon species found in NZ.

While not reaching the outrageously massive size of their North American relatives, NZ king salmon can still grow pretty big. 

Their average weight is between 10 and 15lb, and they can reach a maximum weight of about 40lb in the waters of New Zealand.

How Big Are Salmon When They Go to The Ocean?

Juvenile salmon are called smolt when they leave their natal freshwater rivers and enter saltwater territory. 

During this stage of their lives, they are approximately 7 to 12 inches long, which is relatively tiny if you think about it. 

RELATED READING: Why Do Salmon Live in Both Fresh and Saltwater?

How Fast Do Salmon Grow?

I find the salmon’s growth rate fascinating, as they can go from only a few inches during their first 1 to 2 years to several feet during the rest of their relatively short life.

During their fry and parr stage, which typically lasts 6 to 12 months, the fish can grow as little as 5 to 7 inches.

After that first long year, the young salmon are now called smolt, the phase that gets them ready for their coming saltwater ventures. 

It can take the smolt an additional full year to reach a size of around 10 to 12 inches.

The now 2-year-old salmon will then head out to sea, spending 1 to 6 years of its short life eating and growing to its full size before returning to its freshwater spawning grounds, where it will die shortly after the act of spawning is completed.

That means that a big king salmon that has grown a mere 5 to 10 inches during its first two years will have added its additional, say, 40 inches during its remaining 4 or 5 years (on average) out at sea. 

Talking about a rapid growth rate here!

RELATED READING: Get a quick visual summary of this article via the related web story here!

How Old Do Salmon Get?

a fly fisherman on a river holding a big old chinook salmon
Courtesy of Lace Baumgartner

The fairly short salmon lifecycle fascinates me most about this amazing fish species.

That’s because the average lifespan of most salmon types is only 3 to 7 years!

That’s right! A 100lb+ king salmon could be a mere seven years old. Imagine that growth rate! Although kings can reach a maximum age of 8 to 10 years. Still, that’s just incredible.

The salmon type with the most extended lifespan is the Atlantic salmon, which live on average 5 to 8 years and can reach a maximum age of 13 years.

Pink salmon, however, are not so lucky, as they will mature after only two years and then die directly after they have spawned.

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Featured image courtesy of Chris Blackburn

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