Leaves falling. Crisp days and often stiff nights with much cooler air temps. It’s raining again. Moving air is no longer just a breeze but an outright wind. The sun seems to spend a few hours paralleling the horizon then dips out of sight again.
We are fully into fall and transitioning into winter. For many, salmon are a memory of a summer gone too fast. However, the rod and reel needn’t be relegated to a corner of the garage or shed just yet.
Chum salmon (sometimes referred to as dog salmon — more on that below) are at the height of their returns to Puget Sound and Hood Canal. This means an opportunity to tussle with some of the scrappiest fish around.
From an angling perspective, the chum run is a pro/con scenario.
The pros? Chum, as mentioned, are extremely hard fighting and the average specimen is fairly large — say, 8 to 12 pounds.
They have the most deeply forked tail fin of the Pacific salmonids, which means they can burn some line off your reel. Chum are also fairly plentiful within the nearshore, in addition to being somewhat aggressive — meaning, they are not terribly difficult to locate and hook.
The cons? Well, as the last of the pros indicated, with large numbers showing up near shore and their aggressive nature, there are often large crowds fishing for them. This is especially true of estuary areas near hatcheries with public access.
Chum are also less than magnificent as table fare.
It’s up for debate whether another nickname for chums, “dog” salmon, arose because of the sharp teeth spawners develop or because in Alaska indigenous communities, chum are often fed to sled dogs.
The quality of the flesh varies for each individual fish and some folks find “bright” chum (or those not yet exhibiting deep spawning coloration) to be just fine in the smoker.
How to balance the pros and cons?
Your best bet is to seek out a marine area near a watershed that receives a chum run that is not well publicized or “easily” accessed.
Whether fly-fishing or fishing with conventional tackle, tie on something chartreuse, toss it out there and see if one of these tenacious salmon grabs. Be prepared if one does — it will take you for ride.
If it’s bright, smoke it up and see how it suits you; or give it to out-of-town guests not accustomed to kings, silvers, or sockeye!
As always, check the regulations to be sure you are fishing legally and never harvest more than you or your immediate friends and family can readily use. While chum may seem abundant currently, any number of factors could contribute to a decline in these runs.