Chum Salmon

Different types of salmon can offer varying opportunities to fish in different ways. Chum salmon is one of the types of salmon you can fish in North America, and you can find it on the Pacific coast. They have the largest natural range of any Pacific salmon, so they can be found in a large number of places.

What Is a Chum Salmon?

The chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) is a type of Pacific salmon in the same genus as other Pacific salmon and Pacific trout. The name chum comes from the Chinook Jargon word tzum, which means spotted or marked, while the scientific name keta is from the Eastern Siberian Evenki language. It has a deep body and, as with other Pacific species, an anal fin with 12 to 20 rays (whereas European species have a maximum of 12).

This is an anadromous fish that migrates from freshwater to seawater. In the sea, they have a silvery blue-green color, with a pale belly and some darker spotting. In freshwater, they are a darker olive green with a darker belly. They have purple streaks near the tail before spawning, and males also develop a snout or kype, as well as larger teeth and white tips on their lower fins. They live for an average of 3 to 5 years, with chum salmon in Alaska maturing at 5 years.

Adults can weigh anywhere from 9 to 22 pounds, with an average length of 24 inches. Juvenile chum salmon eat insects and zooplankton, while adults eat smaller fish. They’re not a particularly commercially valuable salmon, but that means that there’s plenty of them for recreational anglers. Two populations in Washington State (Hood Canal Summer Run) and the Lower Columbia River have been listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened species in the US.

Where to Fish for Chum Salmon

They have a very wide natural range. In fact, they have the largest range of any Pacific salmon and have the longest migrations of any fish in their genus. They migrate up the Yukon River and, in Asia, into the Amur River basin. In North America, they are found in British Columbia in Canada, and from Alaska to California in the United States. They can spawn as far north as the MacKenzie River and as far south as Oregon, and have even been known to spawn in California in the past.

Alaska is a popular choice for chum salmon fishing, but many people also choose Washington or British Columbia when looking for chum salmon. You can fish for chum salmon in rivers when they make their return from the ocean, particularly in any rivers that have a strong run. Boat anglers can also fish for chum salmon by trolling in the ocean before they reach the rivers. When chum salmon get ready to come back to the rivers, you can find them in shallow waters near ocean shorelines.

Chum salmon can be found in a huge number of rivers throughout several states on the Pacific coast, and there are even some populations on the Atlantic coast. That’s one of the reasons they can be so great to fish, even though they’re a less popular option for fishing compared to other types of salmon. You can find lists of places to find them in whichever region you’re interested in because they’re so abundant in many places. Populations are lower in some locations, but there are plenty of rivers or coastal areas to choose from too.

The best time to fish for chum is in October and November. They spawn from late summer to March and die after they spawn.

Fun Facts

  • They are known by a few other names, including dog salmon, keta, Calico salmon, and chub. They can grow up to 30 to 35 pounds, but their average weight is 8 to 15 pounds. Like other anadromous salmon, they begin their lives in freshwater, migrate out into marine environments as they grow, and then return to freshwater when they reach sexual maturity and are ready to spawn. The record size for a chum salmon is 42 pounds in weight and 44 inches long, which was a salmon caught at Edie Pass in British Columbia.
  • They typically spawn between the ages of 3 and 6, after which they die. The female can produce between 2,000 and 4,000 eggs. The salmon carcasses after they have spawned are a vital source of nutrients to the ecosystem and can improve the growth and survival of newly hatched salmon thanks to the nitrogen and phosphorus compounds that they release. They nest within about 60 miles of the ocean, usually in the lower parts of rivers and streams. They choose nesting locations where their growing young can get plenty of oxygen and cover their nests with gravel.
  • Young chum eat insects when they’re migrating downriver and also eat marine invertebrates when they move into estuaries and marine environments. The adults eat fish, mollusks, copepods, tunicates, and squid. As for what eats chum salmon, their predators include fish, birds, sharks, seals, sea lions, and orca.
  • When chum salmon are fished commercially, the fishing gear used doesn’t often have contact with the ocean floor. This means that it doesn’t have much impact on the marine environment, unlike some fishing practices. Almost 116 million pounds of chum salmon were caught by commercial operations in 2019, but there’s still plenty left for recreational anglers.

Top Chum Salmon Fishing Lures & Tips

When fishing for chum salmon on the West Coast, you can only keep a certain number of fish per trip. This is to help ensure fishing is sustainable. The numbers you’re allowed to keep depend on the region. Alternatively, you could catch and release your chum salmon, especially if you’re not someone who is particularly fond of the taste.

You might choose to fish for chum salmon in rivers or in the ocean. If you decide to fish in rivers, you’ll find that the salmon are very aggressive once they arrive. There are lots of places to target them, usually miles up the river until it’s time for them to start nesting and spawning. Some of the options you could try for river fishing for chum salmon include using a bobber and jig, twitching jigs, pulling plugs, drift fishing, or fly fishing. The standard methods used for fishing salmon are good choices for fishing for chum salmon in rivers. Spinners and spoons make good lures, and the fish are often attracted to green, purple, or chartreuse colors. Fly fishing can be a fun way to successfully fish for chum salmon in the right conditions.

Of course, fishing for saltwater chum salmon is also an option for catching chum salmon if you would rather be out in coastal and open waters. Trolling is a common method, with spinners, spoons, and plug-cut herrings good choices for attracting the fish. Chums will go for a range of different lures and aren’t particularly picky. If you’re finding it hard to catch anything, try changing the color of your lure. Other methods for saltwater chum salmon include mooching and shore fishing, both of which can be productive ways to make a good catch.

Can You Eat Chum Salmon?

Like other types of salmon, you can definitely eat chum. However, many people think it’s not as tasty as other types of salmon. It’s less popular commercially too, and you’re much more likely to find other types of salmon for sale before you spot chum salmon. It has a lower oil content and less flavor than other salmon types. Some people would rather catch and release chum salmon than eat it.

But don’t let that put you off if you want to cook your catch of the day. Plenty of people find chum salmon tasty, even if it’s not as rich or fatty as its cousins. You have a variety of ways you can cook chum salmon, including many of the methods you would use for other salmon. It’s smart to take into account the lower oil content, which can mean that chum salmon dries out more quickly with some cooking methods. They work well in casseroles and other dishes with a higher moisture content to keep the fish moist. They also make good salmon patties. If you want to grill or broil your chum salmon instead, it’s a good idea to marinate your fish before doing so and baste it during cooking to help it retain moisture too.

You can quickly pan-sear some chum salmon fillets and add a knob of butter and some lemon juice. A layer of pesto is great to spread on your fillets too, or you might try an Asian-style soy glaze. Chowder is also a good choice for your chum salmon.

Chum salmon might not be the favorite salmon to eat, but it’s definitely fun to catch. It can still make a great meal too, even if it’s not on par with other options.