Two techniques for taking chums from Puget Sound
Every year the holiday season brings the dogs back home to the south Puget Sound.
Thousands of chums start showing in October, with steady action on these hard fighting fish all the way into January in Marine Area 13. Chum, also known as Dog salmon, get a bad rap mostly when it comes to the quality of their flesh and, in fact, the commercial value for chums is in the selling of the eggs, not the fish itself.
On the positive side, however, sport anglers that participate in this fishery will tell you they are pound for pound one of the hardest fighting salmon species in the northwest. Much like chinook, they are capable of long powerful runs and will trash cheap equipment or poorly tied leaders with blistering runs and sharp teeth.
When caught in the saltchuck chums can still be very bright and great table fare, considering their very high fat content. By properly bleeding and icing these fish they can still make a delicious meal either on the barbeque or by smoking them.
Anglers primarily use two techniques to target chums in the Puget Sound. Trolling a dodger or a large Pro Troll flasher with a mini squid rigged on an Owner 6/0-7/0 black hook works well when trolled dead slow. Fish the top 60-ft. of water along known migration routes. Recognizing migrations is easier than you might think, as you will see the chums jumping and finning if they’re in the area. If chums aren’t spotted move around until a school is located before putting the gear back in the water. I usually start fishing with 3 or 4 setups ranging in depth from 10 to 60 feet off my Scotty downriggers until I find out what depth the fish are running. Remembering to troll as slow as possible is the key to making this technique produce fish.
The second and my preferred method for catching chum is float fishing in 20-50 ft. of water. Again, you need to find a good migration route for these fish. One of my most productive spots is just north of the Nisqually River, but virtually any stream or river chums return will work.
When fish are spotted jumping make a stealthy approach so as not to spook the school. Chums are extremely boat shy, so idle up very slowly to your anchorage spot, which preferably will have a little current. If you find you need to reposition to a new location move slowly away from the fishing area and repeat your stealth approach again, dropping the anchor slowly to the bottom. If you clank the anchor and chain on the bottom, making a ton of noise, the fish will move away from the area.
For tackle I use a G. Loomis 9-foot spinning rod with a Shimano Sustain 2500 spinning reel. A casting rod & reel will work, but I prefer to use a spinning rod because of how fun they are to fight fish with. I use 20-pound mainline to a ball bearing swivel and above the swivel I use a steelheaders dink float, which seem to show up well in the choppy south sound water.
I tie a small nail knot into the main line above the float as a stopper to keep them from sliding up the line, or a small piece of dacron will also work. This makes the float easy to adjust when setting the depth of the bait, which can be quite deep at times. Under the float you need a small sinker such as a split shot or egg weight to keep the bait down in the current. Under the Ball bearing swivel I use 4 to 6 feet of 25-pound Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon leader with a pair of Owner 1/0 hooks tied into the end of the leader for the bait.
Bait is very critical in this fishery and two to three inch firecracker herring are my top choice. Putting a spin on the herring helps but chums will take it either way whether it’s spinning or dead drifted. I also like to inject my herring with Pro-Cure herring oil to get a scent trail working behind the boat.
Let this setup drift out behind the boat 40-90 feet, then reel it in and start again. Often times the fish will hit with the spinning rod in the rod holder and the bail open just drifting free away from the boat, or you can also hold the rod. When the bobber goes under it’s important to let the fish eat herring and don’t set the hook too quickly. My advice is to wait until the chum is taking line then lay the hooks to him. You can get some brutal fights from these fish, so be ready!
I have caught chum in as shallow as 10 ft of water and as deep as 50 ft., so you have to experiment with the water depth and adjust your float accordingly depending on the route of the fish.
This is a great winter fishery and a fun time to be out on the water. Dress warm, watch the weather and most of all be courteous to other anglers anchored up fishing chums and don’t run over and ask them how they’re doing, as you won’t get a warm welcome if you scare off a school of fish that they are anchored up on.