The coast of the Pacific Northwest — from Alaska through British Columbia, and all the way down to California — is home to hundreds of saltwater fish species. While some species are easy to identify, many times you’ll need a good quality saltwater fish field guide to figure out exactly what you’re looking at.
Whether you’re a fisher, scuba diver, boater, marine biologist, or just interested in learning more about the wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, the best way to identify marine species is with a comprehensive saltwater fish field guide. And, while some prefer online apps to help identify species, nothing really beats a good old-fashioned paper copy of a field guide.
Thankfully there are a good number of in-depth, well-researched and amazingly illustrated marine fish field guides out there. These top saltwater fish field guides for the Pacific Northwest have been written and designed with everyone from amateurs to marine biologists in mind, helping with identification and providing all the best information you could ever need on fish species within this wonderful region.
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Best Saltwater Fish Field Guides for the Pacific Northwest
With hundreds of marine fish species out there, a good quality saltwater fish field guide is worth its weight in gold for any marine enthusiast or ocean fisher. Here are some of the best saltwater fish field guides for the Pacific Northwest!
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Fishes: North America – by the National Audubon Society
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Fishes: North America is one of the many amazing field guides by the National Audubon Society, a non-profit environmental organization that makes some of the best field guides out there. Unsurprisingly, this field guide is one of the best saltwater (and freshwater) fish identification books for the Pacific Northwest and the rest of North America.
Covering over 635 freshwater and saltwater species in North America, this is a must-have field guide for anyone wanting to identify fish in all habitats. There are 723 color photographs, 286 illustrations, and 637 range maps, plus information on each fish’s identifying features, habitat, similar species, and other interesting facts. They also describe some fish biology and anatomy to help with identifications.
While an excellent reference guide, there are a couple things that could be changed about this book. It covers a lot of information, so it isn’t as comprehensive as a saltwater-specific book and some marine fish are missing or lack photos. Also, the color plates are presented separately from the text, which may be hard for some people to use. Even so, it’s still an excellent reference for any fisher, diver, boater, or fish enthusiast.
A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes: From Alaska to California – by Val Kells, Luiz Rocha & Larry Allen
A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes: From Alaska to California by Val Kells, Luiz Rocha & Larry Allen is a comprehensive guide that’s beautifully put together. Covering almost 700 species and 157 fish familes found along the Pacific Northwest coast of the USA and Canada, and with some of the region’s most up-to-date information, this is an ideal reference book to identify coastal fish in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
One of the main selling points of this particular guide are the 950-plus illustrations, presented right beside the text. Rather than photographs, these carefully considered colour drawings add real craftsmanship to this essential field guide.
The gorgeous illustrations alone position this as one of the top saltwater fish field guides for the Pacific Northwest. They allow the guide to capture the essence of some hard-to-photograph species, as well as different color variants and life stages, from juveniles to adults. However, if you prefer photographs, you may want to look at a different book!
Also, this book only covers coastal species, from shallow ocean, intertidal areas and brackish waters (a mix of salt and freshwater) to a limit of about 200 meters deep. For those wishing to identify rarer deep sea species, this book might not fit the bill! However, for most people, this range coverage will be plenty.
A Field Guide to Common Fishes of the Pacific Northwest – by Andy Lamb, Bernard Hanby & Phil Edgell
If you’re looking for a small pocket guide to bring on ocean trips, then look no further than A Field Guide to Common Fishes of the Pacific Northwest by Andy Lamb, Bernard Hanby and Phil Edgell.
This marine identification pamphlet is packed with color photographs to help you identify the common types of saltwater fish that you’ll find on the Pacific Northwest coasts. The pamphlet includes 78 saltwater fish species, from salmon to rockfishes, and is ideal for any marine enthusiast looking to identify commonly encountered species.
Best of all, this fish identification brochure is waterproof and pocket-sized, unlike some of the other more comprehensive field guides. You’ll be able to bring it to the ocean without worry!
Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest: 2nd Edition – by Andy Lamb & Phil Edgell
Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest is a deep dive into the species of fish that live along the Pacific coast of North America. Its authors are Andy Lamb, a British Columbia-based marine biologist and scuba diver, and Phil Edgell, a fish culturist and prize-winning underwater photographer.
From salmon and trout all the way to skates, sharks, and even hagfish and lampreys, this 352-page book has it all. If you’ve spotted a species you don’t know in the Pacific Northwest, anywhere from southern Alaska through British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and all the way down to northern California, chances are it’ll be in this top saltwater fish field guide!
Each species has a section of text describing its size, distribution, tips to find the fish while angling, diving, tidepooling, and even commercial fishing, as well as edibility. The text is paired with detailed sketches noting identifying features. The book also helps to identify each fish with brilliant full-color photographs, making this an all-round fantastic reference guide for any keen angler, diver or beachcomber.
Ken Schultz’s Field Guide to Saltwater Fish – by Ken Schultz
Want one of the best saltwater fish field guides that covers all of North America’s coastlines, not just the Pacific Northwest? If so, Ken Schultz’s Field Guide to Saltwater Fish by Ken Schultz is a great option for you!
This practical field guide provides a wealth of encyclopedic knowledge on 227 of the most common saltwater fish found in the coastal waters of North America. Each species entry describes the animal’s identifying traits, habitat, distribution, size, life history, behavior, and diet. There are also colorful illustrations to help identify each fish, although the book lacks photographs.
It’s important to note that this book is primarily intended for anglers and focuses more on game fish, like salmon, bass, trout, and amberjack. Non-fishers will still find this reference useful, but may notice more obscure or less edible species are missing. Also, despite being a fishing-focused book, it has limited information on how to find and catch each species, as well as other details one might expect in a book marketed towards anglers.
Fishes of the Salish Sea: Puget Sound and the Straits of Georgia and Juan De Fuca – by Theodore Pietsch & James Orr
Fishes of the Salish Sea: Puget Sound and the Straits of Georgia and Juan De Fuca by Theodore Pietsch & James Orr is arguably the top ocean fish identification book for the Pacific Northwest if you want something laser-focused on the Salish Sea (the ocean between BC and Washington).
Comprising three volumes (sold together), this carefully curated field guide covers 260 fish species found in the Salish Sea. From jawless hagfishes to the iconic ocean sunfish (one of the heaviest bony fish in the world), this guide uses up-to-date scientific knowledge in its entries, providing a wealth of information to enjoy long after any ocean expedition.
With beautiful color plates, an illustrated taxonomic key, and organized in phylogenetic order, this book is easy to use and an incredible resource for anyone from experienced marine biologists to avid students, anglers, or divers. Not only useful for identifying the abundant array of Salish Sea fish, it also includes fascinating information on the history of research and exploration of the region. It’s a labour of love that’s perfect for any lover of the sea!
Fishes of the Pacific Coast: From Alaska to Peru – by Gar Goodson
Fishes of the Pacific Coast: From Alaska to Peru by Gar Goodson is possibly the widest spanning of any in this list. This transcontinental reference book covers marine fish species along the Pacific Coast from Alaska in North America all the way to Peru in South America, including the Galapagos Islands and the Gulf of California.
Surprisingly, for such a range covering a vast number of fishes, this book is pocket-sized — just right for a drybag. The portable size of this 280-page book makes it easy to use when out in the field.
This guide is designed for amateur fish enthusiasts, but is useful even for experienced ichthyologists. The book is easy to use, with color renditions of the species and an organization that places common fishes at the front and more uncommon species at the back. In addition to color illustrations, each fish has a textual description, covering information like size, range, identifying features, and ecology.
Coastal Fish Identification: California to Alaska – by Paul Humann & Ned Deloach
Coastal Fish Identification: California to Alaska by Paul Humann & Ned Deloach focuses on a broad range of 258 fish species found along the Pacific Coast of North America, all within 292 pages. The durable nature of the book makes it easy to take out in the field or lay completely flat while identifying species.
The informative format that the authors employ throughout the book makes it easy to identify fish species. The information is clear and concise, leaning heavily on brightly coloured photography to help readers identify various fishes. The content is excellent, but the photos are arguably the best part of this top ocean fish field guide for the Pacific Northwest.
Focusing mainly on fish encountered by anglers and scuba divers, there are some major species left out within the book. For example, salmon are not included within this field guide, which seems to be an odd choice for the authors, given the iconic nature of this group of species.
A Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes: North America – by Earl Herald, Roger Peterson & Katherine Smith
A Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes: North America by Earl Herald, Roger Peterson & Katherine Smith includes over 600 species, from coastal to deep sea and pelagic species, detailed across 352 pages. It’s one of the top ocean fish identification books for those who want to identify a huge diversity of saltwater species found along the Pacific Coast of North America from Alaska to Mexico.
The book includes over 525 illustrations, although some people may prefer actual photographs. Another downside is that the illustrations and species entries aren’t always on the same page, making it more difficult for some to use. However, the information provided for each species is generally concise and useful.
Overall, it may not be the best option for some (amateurs in particular), as the illustrations are limiting. However, it’s a helpful companion for those who want to cross reference field guides or who are more experienced in their fish identifications.
Peterson First Guide to Fishes of North America – by Roger Peterson & Michael Filisky
Peterson First Guide to Fishes of North America by Roger Peterson & Michael Filisky is a practical introduction to the world of fish identification. This is a great, compact fish field guide that’s perfect for any beginner. It covers both freshwater and saltwater fish across North America.
The ideal size for packing into your tackle box or slipping into a pocket, the beautifully illustrated book sheds light on 220 common and lesser-known species of fish found in North America. The text provides information on descriptive features, size, habitat, and ecology, accompanied by full color illustrations. Overall, it’s a user-friendly book that is a fantastic buy for beginners.