Chum by Debbie Barton
The 2016 fall chum salmon run for the Fraser River, which borders Vancouver BC and opens out into Johnstone Strait to the North of the Washington’s San Juan Islands, was slow at first. When it did come, however, the fish appeared in record numbers. The run, which now looks like it numbers 2 million, has been so large that some of the catches have swamped the boats of smaller commercial fishermen. Tidal and streamside anglers can look forward to a great season of chum as well from now until as late as Thanksgiving.
Chum, dog, and keta salmon are all names for one of the most populous but least popular species of salmon. The fish are large and impressive-looking in their spawn stage, with green and burgundy patches on their backs and a long nose with large, sharp teeth. The meat is oily and tender, but strong-tasting, which is why they are less likely to be seen on a restaurant menu. They are one of the best smoked meats, though, because the oil keeps it tender throughout the smoking process and the flavor gets enhanced by the smoke and brine. Chum typically spawn in the late fall, between mid-October and Thanksgiving. They are one of the most common hatchery species, and offer the largest populations in many Pacific Northwest streams.
Angling for Chum
For anglers, chum is a favorite target because they are powerful swimmers who give a good fight and because they tend to run in large populations, which almost guarantees you a successful catch. You can troll for them before they enter the mouth of the river, tidal fish in the mouth or estuaries of the river at low tide, or wait until they make it to some of the upper runs. The closer you are to the mouth of the river, the nicer the condition of the fish will be. Sea-run fish are still silver and have the firmest meat.
Timing your fishing day with the tide can make for a more efficient catch. These fish have been swimming inland from the ocean for hundreds to thousands of miles by the time they reach the river. They are smart, and will come in the largest waves as the flood tides come in. Choose either the beginning of the flood tide after the low point if you are tidal fishing in the water, or the time of the fastest incoming current (about 3 hours after low tide) if you are in a boat.
Tips on Gear
Chum tend to like tennis-ball green, pink, peach, red and purple colors. They are serious fighters, so you need heavy gear. River fish like spoons and spinners, drift fishing with a float, and bottom bouncing. Offshore trollers swear by hootchies. If your gear is heavy and your lure is bright, it’s hard to miss them, however. They are around in the tens to hundreds of thousands, they are hungry, and they will give you a day of fishing you will never forget.