River Monsters: Discover the Largest Fish in the Columbia River

White sturgeon fishing catch and release
© CSNafzger/Shutterstock.com

Written by Colby Maxwell

Updated: September 15, 2023

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The Columbia River is home to some of the most notable fish in North America. Swimming in its waters, a secretive giant lives. Although this river monster isn’t dangerous to humans, it is the largest fish in the United States. Today, let’s discover the largest fish in the Columbia River. You may have even eaten some of them before!

Infographic of the Largest Fish in the Columbia River
The white sturgeon is the largest fish not only in the Columbia River but in all of North America.

What Is the Columbia River?

The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Beginning in the Rocky Mountains, this large river flows through Washington and Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. With a total length of 1,243 miles, the Columbia is incredibly important for the culture and economics of the region, especially when it comes to fish. Some of the fish in the Columbia River, however, may just classify as river monsters!

Infographic about the Columbia River.
The Columbia River is the world’s greatest source of hydroelectric power.

The Top Four Largest Fish in the Columbia River

With the Columbia River being so large, it’s no wonder that there are some massive fish in it. Although these aren’t as large as some of the fish in the oceans nearby, they easily top the scales as some of the larger freshwater fish in the world. Let’s discover the four largest freshwater fish in the Columbia River.

1. White Sturgeon

sturgeon

The white sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America.

©iStock.com/akinshin

The white sturgeon is, without a doubt, the largest fish in the Columbia River. In fact, it’s the largest fish in all of North America! These ancient relics have been on the earth for millions of years and are often considered “living fossils.” They generally live along the west coast of the U.S., although their greatest population density is within the Columbia River Basin.

At their largest, white sturgeon are known to grow 20 feet long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds, tipping the scales in their respective regions. Since they can live upwards of 100 years, these fish have a long time to mature and can grow to certifiable giants.

2. King Salmon

River Monsters: Discover the Largest Fish in the Columbia River

King salmon are the largest species of salmon in the world.

©Crystal Kirk/Shutterstock.com

The largest species of salmon in the world is the king salmon, otherwise known as the Chinook salmon. These fish are born in freshwater but make their way to the ocean for most of their lives. When it’s time to reproduce, they head back to the place they were born, mate, and die off. This process is known as a salmon run and results in millions of salmon heading through the river systems at certain points in the year.

King salmon can grow incredibly large, with the biggest individuals topping out near 5 feet long and weighing 126 pounds. Although they aren’t as large as the sturgeon, they are the largest salmon species in the world.

3. Coho Salmon

River Monsters: Discover the Largest Fish in the Columbia River

Coho salmon are the second largest species of salmon in the Columbia River.

©Keith Publicover/Shutterstock.com

Although not as large as king salmon, coho salmon are still among the larger fish you could encounter in the Columbia. These are the second largest species of salmon in North America and, like king salmon, spawn in freshwater but live in the ocean for the rest of their lives.

Coho salmons generally measure between 2 and 3 feet long and can weigh as much as 15 pounds, although the largest individuals can get a bit bigger.

4. Channel Catfish

River Monsters: Discover the Largest Fish in the Columbia River

The channel catfish is the second-largest catfish species in the U.S. and the largest along the west coast.

©Ryan Somma, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Catfish are often forgotten from lists like this, but the channel catfish definitely deserves a spot on our one! Channel catfish are the most common (and largest) catfish that live in the Columbia River. They are bottom feeders and prefer muddy waters, ponds, and other low-visibility environments. Catfish will eat almost anything and can grow for as long as they live! As a result, catfish are often among the largest fish in any water systems.

The channel catfish can grow between 2 and 4 feet and reach as much as 50 pounds. Still, they don’t often exceed 10 pounds on the west coast. These catfish are often caught and used for food, with a culinary culture surrounding them that dates back hundreds of years.


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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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