by Hannah Pennebaker , November 04, 2019
When asked to identify the types of Pacific salmon, most Northwesterners can readily name the feisty coho, the red sockeye, the plentiful pink, and, of course, the mighty chinook salmon. Fewer can name the chum, or dog, salmon. The lesser known fifth species of Pacific salmon gets its place in the spotlight starting in November. This is the least pressured salmon run in the state, but those who know how hard these salmon fight and how tasty they are in the smoker eagerly await it. They are the second largest salmon species; most being around 8-15 pounds, but they can reach up to a whopping 33 pounds. They don't spawn far up rivers like the others, so they start to get their spawning colors much sooner. These salmon turn from a beautiful chrome into a distinctive purple and olive striped color. Chum salmon can be found on most coastal rivers in Washington State.
There is much to recommend about chum salmon fishing. Some say, pound for pound, these are the hardest fighting salmon species. They are delicious on the smoker, and their eggs make great bait for bobber and eggs the next coho and king season. So don't put away your salmon gear for the season quite yet, there are still plenty of chum salmon out there just waiting for your smoker.
One of the best things about chum salmon is their aggression and willingness to strike a lure. Most anglers will tell you that the best colors to use are green and purple. Green #4 Vibrax spinners work incredibly well here. I like to run a drift setup with green corkie and purple yarn. Purple marabou jigs or Aero jigs are a favorite of many dedicated chum salmon anglers. A float and jig works well, and you can try scenting your jig with sand shrimp oil. Any purple or green lure is likely to entice a strike. Plunkers will often use large Kwikfish with sand shrimp wrapped around the belly for scent. These are very plentiful and aggressive fish, and they offer a perfect opportunity to test out and improve your techniques.
Because chum salmon are the second biggest salmon species, I recommend using tackle on the heavier side. A medium heavy power rod will work great, as well as a sturdy size 3000-4000 reel.
17 pound fluorocarbon leader and 30 pound test mainline will serve you well. These salmon are also called dog salmon, aptly named for the males' protruding teeth as they near spawning, which have been known to cut leaders.
Minter Creek is a great first destination for aspiring chum salmon anglers. There is a plentiful run, but it can be shoulder to shoulder combat fishing at times. The Green River and Nisqually River also boast good chum runs starting in November. Look for deep water pockets in the river for these large salmon.
The key thing to remember about catching chum in the Puget Sound is that they are plankton eaters, unlike the other salmon species. A new way to catch chum in the sound has been causing waves in the local fishing community in recent years. This is the bobber and herring method. Just like bobber and eggs in the rivers, tie a bobber stopper, bead, large 3/8 oz bobber, then bobber stopper, bead, 1/4 weight, and swivel on your mainline. Then use about three feet of leader and a size 2/0 hook. Look for schools of chum near shore, particularly near river mouths, and cast out to them. Chances are, you'll have a bobber down in no time.
Additionally, large numbers of chum run in Hood Canal, and the hatchery at Hoodsport is a popular place to catch them. They stack up all along the shore, especially at pilings or docks. Try throwing out a green spoon or a chunk of herring.
Now that you've got your chum limit, it's time to smoke them. Fillet them out like any other salmonid, leaving the skin on. The skin holds the meat together and makes it easier to come off the grill. Make sure to keep the eggs from the hens! I freeze mine and use them for bobber and eggs for coho and kings the next season. Cured chum eggs are some of the best to use for bobber and eggs. As for the fillets, use your favorite brine recipe, making sure to leave the meat uncovered in the fridge for several hours after brining to leave a skin for the smoke to adhere to. Here is my favorite recipe for chum salmon candy: 4 cups cold water, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup salt, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 tablespoons molasses. Since this is a wet brine, I cure for about 12 hours, but if you're using a dry brine, cure for only a few hours. I then smoke the strips in my Big Chief for about 6 hours. In this cold weather, use an insulation blanket on your Big Chief to ensure it reaches the proper temperature. If it's less than 50 degrees outside I'll throw the chum in my Traeger for about 4 hours, but I prefer the smokiness from alder chips in my Big Chief when I can. I baste my salmon with 1 part honey, 1 part maple syrup about 4 times during the process. Chum makes excellent smoked salmon because it is incredibly meaty and firm. Perfect to give away during the holiday season!
Don't miss your chance to fill out the rest of your catch card this year with chum salmon. Some anglers look down on these lesser prized fish, but for those of us willing to give them a chance, they are something to look forward to every year.
Hannah Pennebaker graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a degree in Environmental Studies. She enjoys both freshwater and saltwater fishing adventures in the Puget Sound area with her fishing group, the Straw Hat Fishermen.