Anglers across the country like fishing for salmon. Most anglers like fishing for King Salmon because of their size and others like Silver Salmon because they jump so much. I however, like to do battle with chums, and when I do I spend a significant amount of time looking at my backing. Chum will often take you along for two or even three long runs. And unlike other salmon, chums prefer relatively shallow water making them easy to catch while wading. They also hit flies with a vengeance.
The Well-Traveled Fish
The chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) has the largest migratory range of any Pacific Salmon. You’ll find chums from California to Alaska in North America, as well as in such far-flung places as Russia, South Korea, and even Japan. And happily, many rivers that are home to chums don’t even require a boat to navigate. In Oregon, for example, try the Kilchis and the Miami Rivers, which empty into Tillamook Bay. In Washington, try the Nisqually, the Puyallup, and the Skokomish Rivers, which empty into the Puget Sound. In California, try the Sacramento and the San Lorenzo Rivers. And for those Canadian anglers, chums inhabit over 750 rivers in British Columbia.
Most adult chums weigh between 5 and 15 pounds, depending on how long they stay at sea. Some fish will return to spawn at only 3 years of age, whereas others may wait up to 7 years. When migrating from the ocean, chums are the color of chrome, but they begin to take on spawning colors after coming in contact with fresh water. Black, green, and even purple bands run perpendicular to the sides of the fish, a unique characteristic of the spawning chum.
Chums tend to travel in schools, though these schools very greatly in size (from as few as 30 fish to as large as a football field). You’ll find chums resting near sand bars if caught by a dropping tide, or you may find them pulled in below a break in the river to stage while waiting to go upstream. Don’t bother looking for chums in deep pools or areas that are sometimes referred to as “frog water.” These areas are perfect for pike and resting silvers, but chums like the openness of moving water and are not likely to be found in what anglers after other species of salmon might consider a good fishing hole.
Once you’ve located the school, cast your fly slightly upstream and wait for the current to do most of the work. I’ve found that chums often take flies on the swing, so sometimes a small bump will be followed by a shoulder rattling jolt. Set the hook firmly once you have a strike, and don’t be afraid to set the hook a second time. Once you feel that the hook is set, don’t force the chum to do anything—or you’re likely to break your line.
Don’t wade too far out to chums. The further out into the river you wade, the further you’ll manage to push these fish from you. After all, chums are aggressive, not stupid. If you find yourself more than waist-deep in the water, back up—you’ve gone too far.
A range of rods is appropriate for chum salmon fishing, including 7- to 9-weights, depending on the class and size of fish you’re angling over. If limited to only one rod, I would probably choose an 8, which would not overpower smaller chums but would still have the backbone to turn a larger fish. A note of caution: If you do hook a large chum salmon, you will never need to be reminded again to keep your knuckles clear of the reel.
Because chums tend to stick to fairly shallow water, go for weight-forward floating lines. Check the end of your line frequently because chums sometimes inadvertently dig themselves into the sand bar to avoid being caught, thus tearing up your leader and fraying your line. Use hooks in sizes from No. 4 to 2/0, and stick with bright colors like, pink, purple, white and chartreuse. In general, chums are not easily spooked, so you may have several opportunities at these aggressive fish and you don’t want to injure them with a foul hook.
Pound for pound, Chum Salmon just might be the hardest-fighting fish that you ever catch.
Beau Beasley (www.beaubeasley.com ) is a proud member of Local 2068 and serves as a Captain for Fairfax County Fire and Rescue.