Chum Salmon, Oncorhynchus Keta, are the Rodney Dangerfield of the Salmon family; they get no respect.

   Chum are also known as dog salmon, calico salmon, chub, fall salmon, and Keta salmon. They are common on both sides of the Pacific Ocean from California to Alaska and in parts of Japan and Korea. In the ocean they resemble most other Salmon though they are absent of the large black spots common to the species. On entering brackish water they begin to develop the purple and grey barred coloring that they are famous for. A "clean" chum is still an attractive looking fish until they leave tidal water. Once they are in the fresh water, non-tidal portion of a river their light colors quickly turn dark and the dog like teeth the males are famous for appear. Unfortunately, this is when most pictures of Chum are taken as they are easily caught once packed together in smaller streams. This is also where Chum get their reputation as an ugly and unworthy opponent.

   Chum travel the least distance upstream of all Salmon and usually don't travel far past the tidal limit of most rivers that they return to. They spend two or three seasons at sea before returning to their home streams to spawn. Their average lifespan is 2 to 5 years and in that time they can grow to as large as 40 inches. While they average 8-14 pounds they can grow close to 40. They spawn in their 3rd, 4th, or 5th year and are usually the last of the Pacific salmon to return in the fall. In the spring the newly hatched Chum fry immediately head downstream towards the ocean after emerging from the gravel. For anglers lucky enough to be on a short river during this short period the Trout and Char fishing can be spectacular as they slash through the fleeing young Salmon. On larger rivers this migration can take longer due to the distance to Sea and the action can be sparse but steady for a number of weeks. The fry will hang out in tidal estuaries for several months before heading out to the deep ocean. 

   Fly anglers chase Chum with 8 and 9 weight flyrods. Anything less is just taking a chance. Chum are tackle busters and many rods are broken each fall by fly anglers who bring knives to the gun fight. More and more anglers are using doublehanded rods. Seven and 8 weight Spey or Switch rods are perfect, not only for landing the fish but also for the repetitive casting of sink tips and streamers.

   My favourite set-ups for my home rivers(Fraser, Harrison, Vedder and Squamish) include a 13'9 8 weight Spey and an 11' 7 weight Switch rod. I use Skagit heads with both, adjusting the sink rate of my tip to meet the river conditions. Casts needn't be long as the fish run fairly close to shore where the current isn't as strong. I use short leaders, roughly 5 feet. This leader consists of a 3 foot section of 30 pound fluorocarbon, 1 foot of 15 pound tippet and a 1 foot 30 pound fluorocarbon bite tippet. Anglers who use heavy leaders without a lighter tippet can end up with lost tips and flylines or even a broken rod. A large net or cradle is a good idea to handle these fish in close.

   Choosing fly patterns to take chum in fresh water is not rocket science. In fact most Pacific Salmon will take almost any wet fly that is presented properly. The key is to get the fly down to the fish and choose a color that they will be able to see clearly. If you ask 5 anglers what color they like best you may get 5 different answers. Chartreuse and white streamers seem to be a favorite these days. Purple and pink streamers as well. Guides like a sparse fly that sinks quickly or a cone head streamer. Flies swung deep on the end of sink tips usually meet with success. In shallow, small streams a floating line with a weighted fly does the trick. Corey Keonig of Webflyz BC has a great selection of Chum patterns,

   A hooked Chum will either instantly start to peel off line and go for a good run or go straight into a short distance tug o war. Either way, it will eventually become a dog fight between angler and fish until the fish is landed, or something breaks. A good fight is guaranteed no matter the size of the fish.

    Although Chum are plentiful, they are still a threatened species. If you find that you are foul hooking a lot of Chum, most likely you are fishing through a school of stale fish and spawners. Move to a different location on the river and try there. Foul hooked fish should be broken off early to avoid unnecessary stress. Landed fish should be quickly photographed and released allowing them to continue on with their mating journey unharmed. Treat these fish with care and we will have this great fishery for many years to come unlike many other places where chum have been almost wiped out by overfishing and habitat destruction.

   Don't let anyone convince you that Chum are unworthy or simply a by catch while fishing for other types of Salmon. Anglers travel to Southwestern BC from all over the globe to fish for Chum with guides. A number of world record fish have been caught here on the Fraser River and it's larger tributaries. Anglers on the Fraser are able to use jet boats to intercept these brutes before they're past tidal water; these fish are strong, clean and leave anglers with sore arms and backs by days end.

What more could you ask for?

Dave Henry