by Jason Brooks, November 04, 2019
Last November I took a friend and my son down a coastal river for some fishing. The friend moved to the Pacific Northwest from Texas and had never caught a salmon before. He was an avid angler and whitewater rafter so being on a river was no big deal to him but catching his first salmon turned out to be one of the best experiences he had while floating down a river. Pulling into a backwater slough I had hoped to find a few late run Coho. My son Ryan made the first cast to show Chris, our Texas friend, how to twitch jigs. Ryan reeled in with the twitching motion and then it was Chris turn to cast. On his second twitch of the rod tip it stayed bent and the fish pulled back. He turned in excitement as the spinning reel screamed and the fish jumped, “This isn’t a little trout!” And from that point on the rest of the day was spent catching Chums, one of the best salmon to introduce new anglers too and keep seasoned ones out on the river until steelhead arrive.
Chums are not known for their table fare, at least not once they enter into the freshwater rivers where they will spawn and die. The fish are big, the second largest of the five Pacific salmon species. Averaging from twelve to twenty pounds and aggressive the fish put up a good fight, even as they near the spawning grounds. Because the fish are so violent they are easy to catch compared to some of their other cousins. This makes them the perfect fish to chase after for both the bank bound and boat owning anglers.
There are a few techniques to catch Chums but the simplest one is to float a small jig under a sliding bobber. Just like you would fish for winter steelhead using a jig but be sure to upsize the leader and mainline as these fish are strong. They also have large teeth that will cut right through light leaders. Starting with the rod you should use one from 8 ½-10 feet in length rated for a heavy action or 15-30 pounds. I prefer a spinning reel because they can cast lighter weights and I am accurate with them but if you can effectively cast a bait caster then the increased drag they offer really helps when it comes to landing Chums. Mainline is often braid as it floats and can be mended like a fly line and it is a good idea to use at least 50 pound up to 80-pound braid. The float can be a lighter one, such as 1 ounce, because there is no need to use a large jig. A small in-line weight or one clipped to the snap swivel will help keep the line straight. Leaders can be short, from 18-24 inches but strong, using 25-pound monofilament such as Izorline XXX in clear. The fish are not line shy.
When float fishing jigs for Chums think “gaudy” and bright. The brighter the better and if you tie your own jigs then mixing chartreuse and cerise is a good bet. Mack’s Lure makes the Glo-Getter in cerise and Yakima Bait Company has the Maxi-Jig with the Calypso color being very popular with its bright colors. Blaze orange, hot pink, purple, and red are also good options. A ¼ ounce jig is a good starting point and sometimes a 3/8-ounce jig is needed in stronger currents. When it comes to floating jigs it is a good idea to use strong scents. Pro-Cure’s bloody tuna anise in Super-Gel or shrimp Super Sauce really entices a bite. Adding a piece of raw prawn is another option.
Look for holding water that is flowing. A riffle, along a boulder, or next to a submerged log. Float fishing for Chums is not bobber fishing in backwater or the slow waters where you often fish for fall Chinook. Instead look for areas where the fish will hold as they move upriver. The aggressive fish don’t like things getting in their way so if you float a jig right up to their nose they will strike out of it out of anger. A deep, slow water hole just allows them to swim around the jig but it you find them holding in moving water the jig coming at them and almost hitting them it what triggers the strike.
That is about it. A pretty simple set up that catches a lot of fish. Chums are aggressive and will strike at a lot of other techniques such as plugs, both casting and pulling them, throwing spinners or twitching jigs. It is twitching jigs that led to Chris first ever salmon and throughout the day he either floated jigs or twitched them. Floating a jig is the simplest way to catch Chums but the twitching of them is an even simpler set-up. A standard twitching rod of 7 ½ feet medium weight with a fast action tip, a spinning reel spooled with 40-pound braid and a jig tied directly on. This is where you want to use the 3/8-ounce jig and one that is tough, such as the Mack’s Lure Rock Dancer made with bucktail and it won’t fall apart after a fish or two. Again heavily scent it with some Super Gel or Super Sauce and put a piece of raw prawn on it.
Twitching jigs is again a reactive strike but it is often done in softer water. The holding fish will mill around and as the jig dances by they will grab it. But don’t overlook moving water, especially if there is woody debris. Both Chums and Coho love to hold under logs and if you can cast and twitch a jig (or float on) next to a down tree you will get bit often. Most anglers don’t realize you can twitch jigs in current. The trick is to not reel as much, letting the moving water take up the slack and let the jig flutter downstream as you twitch it.
If you have anglers that can’t get the twitching technique down or just don’t like casting bobbers and watching them float along (or worse, keep casting them into over-hanging trees), then pulling plugs is a great way to catch Chums. The Mag Lip 4.5 and 5.0 from Yakima Bait Company or the Killer Fish 14 by Brad’s are two great plug styles. Bright colors such as Salmon Tag, Candy Corn, and Twisted Sister for the Brad’s Killer Fish or for the Mag Lips try Fish Monger or Mad Clown. Plug rods are short, usually around 7 ½ feet with a heavy action mid-section and a light, or “fast” action tip so you can read what the plug is doing. Let the plugs out to the same distance and slowly back the boat down the river. For the bank angler you can use a side planer or using a longer heavy action rod you can wade out and then let the plug down below you, especially if you are fishing smaller rivers and streams.
You will find Chums in just about every river and stream that dumps into Puget Sound and along the coast. That is what makes then such a great fish to pursue. You can find a local creek or river that is open in the regulations and go catch a few fish. One of the most popular rivers is the Green River in King County. This is because it is close to the major cities in Puget Sound as well as it has excellent bank access. Minter Creek is another one that is beyond popular and it is probably one of the smallest creeks you will fish for them. Since both are very popular you will often be “combat” fishing, though the Green has a bit more bank access and better places to fish. Hood canal offers a few places to fish for Chums though most anglers who head here are going to the Hoodsport area. This is a salt water fishery where twitching jigs, throwing spoons, spinners or floating a small anchovy is the preferred techniques. With a little bit of research, you can find solitude and places to catch Chum salmon. They are a lot of fun to catch and it is advised to release the fish once they hit the fresh water. Being a low river spawning fish they turn quickly and are more fun to catch than to eat. With a handful of jigs, floats, and some adventurous spirit you can go out and catch some fun fighting Chums.
Jason Brooks hails from North-Central Washington. The son of a fishing guide, Jason is an avid hunter, angler, outdoor photographer and published writer. He resides in Puyallup with his wife and two boys.