About Chum Salmon
Chum salmon, or Keta salmon as they are also known, are a hardy fish that can be found nearly everywhere in Alaska’s fresh and saltwater. Nicknamed “dog salmon” because of their age-old use as a subsistence food for both Native Alaskans and their sled dog teams, chum salmon are the most widely distributed species of Pacific Salmon. In Alaska, their range extends throughout most of the state, primarily in the eastern Chukchi and Bering seas and the Gulf of Alaska, according to the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game. In Asia, spawning populations are known from Korea and Japan and into the far north of Russia, where they’re known as “Keta Salmon”.
Chum salmon spend the majority of their life feeding in salt water, hence their natural occurrences in Alaska along the coastal waters. This is typical to most species of Pacific salmon. When they are mature, and usually in the fall, chum salmon return to fresh water to spawn only once. They die shortly after, so if you’re fishing for chum in rivers or streams, chances are you’re going to catch larger adults. They spawn at the mouth or lower sections of rivers, and once they migrate to the ocean, juvenile chum remain near the shore for several months before venturing into the open ocean.
Juvenile chum salmon vary from adult chum salmon in appearance. While living in freshwater, they typically exhibit eight to 12 dark vertical parr marks, and their overall color deepens from a light, iridescent green below the lateral line to a dark greenish-brown along the back. Chum salmon can ultimately grow to be anywhere from 18 to 30 inches in length and 10 to 15 pounds in weight. Adult, or ocean-stage chum salmon are metallic in hue, usually bluish-green along their back, with numerous tiny spots. Their tail, however, unlike most Pacific salmon, is not spotted, and has silver streaks along the fin rays. Once they return to fresh water to spawn, their color changes drastically. Males lose their metallic sheen, and their color deepens to a dark olive, or sometimes brown, and they develop red or purple vertical stripes. Females become brown or grey, with a dark bar running horizontally along their lateral line. Both males and females develop a kype, or hooked snout, and canine-like teeth.
Chum Salmon Fishing
Chums are easily caught and are often an unexpected byproduct of fishing for other species. This may be one of the reasons they are deemed less desirable than other species of salmon. Chum salmon are valued as a traditional source of dried winter food in Arctic, Northwestern, and Interior Alaska, according to the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game. They are one of the most abundant species of fish in many regions of Alaska, so if you do set out specifically for chum, you’re likely to find what you’re looking for!
Generally, chum salmon fishing season starts in late June and runs through August with peak fishing in July.
Chum Salmon Fishing Flies
Chum salmon primarily eat insect larvae, copepods, mollusks, and various other fishes. Small flies with bright colors are the most effective, and shrimp and leech style flies are commonly used. Alaska Fly Fishing Goods recommends the Pink Neon Shrimp, Purple Egg Sucking Leech, and the Chartreuse Everglow patterns.
Chum Salmon Fishing Tips
Don’t be deterred by the abundance of chum salmon and their reputation for being an easily caught fish. If you want an exhilarating fly fishing experience, just wait till you hook one of these guys. They’re fiercely strong, and when they fight back, they pack a powerful punch. While they can be caught easily, chum salmon will try to pull away downriver, going deep to escape the fly, so make sure you have a hefty rod. In fact, many fly fishers will tell you that they use the same gear for chum salmon that they use for king salmon, attesting to the sheer strength of this fish.
No See Um Lodge recommends a 7 or 8wt 9-foot rod and a high-capacity reel with full-float weight-forward lines. Chum salmon range in depths between 1 – 10 feet of water. They are an aggressive, striking fish that will often take a surface fly but are primarily caught within a couple feet of the bottom.