Sport caught chum salmon
Directed fisheries for chum salmon occur in both the Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay systems
whenever returns are large enough to meet escapement needs and provide surplus fish for
harvest. Recreational and commercial fishing seasons are open in both systems in most
Chum are generally not caught in marine waters of Grays Harbor or Willapa Bay by sport
anglers. The best fishing for chum is in freshwater. Sport fishing for chum is most popular
and catches are generally best on the Satsop River. Chum are also caught on the Humptulips
and Wynoochee rivers. Of the rivers of Willapa Bay, the Nemah River generally produces the
biggest catches of chum. Fishing for chum is usually the best in October but angling success
is also dependent on rain to increase stream flows.
Until recently, most chum salmon were caught by salt water anglers actually fishing for
different types of salmon. Standard mooching techniques will catch an occasional chum
salmon. However, the odds go up if an angler focuses on areas of known chum
concentrations, and fishes a small herring bait very slowly.
A recently developed fishing technique has the potential to revolutionize salt water fishing for
chum salmon. A south Puget Sound angler, Greg Cloud, pioneered the use of a small herring
or anchovy drifted through chum holding areas under a float or bobber. The terminal gear is a 3-4 inch herring or anchovy (or herring strip) fished on a weighted leader with 1/0 hooks. This rig
is drifted within a few feet of the bottom under a float either from a boat anchored up-current of
a concentration of fish, or by letting the boat drift through holding areas and casting the float
and bait out from the boat. Either way, when the bobber goes down hook-ups are almost
automatic, which makes this a great way to fish for kids or neophyte anglers. In the right
circumstances fantastic chum fishing will result. Greg has had many 10 to 25 fish (released)
days with this technique, both in south Puget Sound and in Hood Canal. For more detailed
information see an article by Greg Cloud "Real Chum Fun"in the October/November 1999
issue of Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.
Fishing in marine waters near the mouths of spawning or hatchery streams can be very
productive. Varied fishing techniques are used in these nearshore areas, including drift
bobber and yarn, flies, spoons, and spinners. The herring and float technique described
above has proven particularly effective. For more detailed information on a variety of
nearshore fishing techniques see an article by Tony Dunnington "Chum City" in Salmon Trout
Steelheader Magazine, October/November 1999.
Landing a chum salmon
Most of the standard methods of fishing for salmon and steelhead in rivers will also work for
chum salmon. Various types of spinners and spoons will attract bites from chum salmon,
however, small drift bobbers and yarn are by far the most popular lures used for chum in
rivers. Favored colors seem to be various shades of green or chartreuse, and an occasional
squirt of shrimp oil or other scent on the yarn often increases the action. If there are chum
salmon around, be patient. The good fishing will often happen in pulses, with no action for an
hour or so and then suddenly the fish will start biting and multiple hookups can be common.
Under the right conditions, fly fishing can provide tremendous chum salmon fishing. High
stream flows can make fly fishing difficult, but when conditions are right, a large green or
chartreuse fly fished deep in chum holding areas with a fast sinking fly line will often outfish
conventional fishing techniques. Chum are big strong fish, and 9-12 weight rods and 10-15 lb.
leaders will greatly increase the percentage of hooked fish landed. Give it a try!
For additional information on open seasons and regulations and weekly recreational fishing and hatchery
escapement reports for chum salmon see:
Bow-picker gill net vessel
Retrieving a gill net on Willapa Bay
On Willapa Bay, drift gill nets are the only type of commercial gear used to harvest chum. The
fishery is comprised of non-Indian fishers only; currently no Native American tribes exercise a
treaty right to fish for salmon. Historically, commercial fishing seasons for chum were fairly
stable. Starting in 1973, poor runs, a more conservative approach to management, and the
explosive growth in the fishing power of the fleet combined to cause shorter seasons.
However, by 1980 the situation had improved with stronger wild chum returns. Commercial
harvest levels varied but were generally good through the 1980's. In the last decade chum
abundance has again shown a decline. Since 1994, commercial chum catch on Willapa Bay
has been less than 2,000 fish a ySear. Most of this harvest was incidental to fisheries for
Grays Harbor is jointly managed by the WDFW and the Quinault Indian Nation. As in Willapa
Bay, the only type of commercial gear used by the non-Indian fleet is drift gill nets. Quinault
Indian Nation commercial fishers use both drift gill nets and set nets to harvest salmon.
Commercial chum salmon seasons in Grays Harbor have been very sporadic over the last two
decades, having been limited by poor chum and/or coho abundance. The return timing of
chum and wild coho to Grays Harbor overlap to the extent that, in some years with good
numbers of chum, chum seasons could not be set because too many coho would also be caught.
The Willapa Bay tributaries and estuary provide productive habitats for chum salmon. Each of
the major tributary systems supports runs of chum salmon, with North, Palix, Nemah, Naselle,
and Bear river producing major chum runs. Adults begin entering the bay in late September,
and spawning begins in mid- to late October, peaks in early November, and is usually
completed by late November. Typical runsizes are in the 25,000 to 100,000 fish range, with
occasional returns between 150,000 and 225,000 chum (see table below).