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Puget Sound Chum Salmon
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Fishing for chum salmon at Hoodsport Hatchery on Hood Canal
Fishing for chum salmon at Hoodsport Hatchery on Hood Canal
Fishing for chum in south  Puget Sound
Fishing for chum in south Puget Sound

Fisheries

Chum salmon support a variety of fisheries in the Puget Sound region. These fisheries fall into three types: sport, commercial (all-citizen), and tribal. Recreational fisheries occur on the returning mature adults from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, through Puget Sound and Hood Canal, and ultimately back to the chum salmon's streams of origin. Commercial and tribal fisheries are primarily conducted with purse seine or gill net gear, and most of the open areas are in inside waters where the catch can be focused on those stocks with run sizes above escapement needs. The following discussions will cover recreational and all-citizen commercial fisheries for chum salmon. For information on tribal fisheries in the Puget Sound region see the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission web site.

For additional information on the management of recreational and commercial fisheries see:

Recreational Chum Fisheries

Crrently about half of Washington's recreational chum harvest occurs in freshwater and about half in marine areas. Although the total catch of chum in the marine waters of Puget Sound is still relatively small it is growing. Hood Canal and South Puget Sound have accounted for the majority of the saltwater catch and much of this probably occurs in the estuarine areas near the mouth of rivers and streams. The table below lists the 10 rivers with significant chum harvests. A review of the table indicates that harvest of chum has been increasing in many rivers during recent years. Four systems, namely, Whatcom Creek, Nisqually River, Skagit River and Skykomish River, collectively produce about half of the fresh water chum harvest in the Puget Sound drainage area.

Top 10 Rivers for Recreational Chum Catch

Stream

1989

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 Avg.
Whatcom Cr. 567 933 949 1,799 543 1,561 1,285 3,539 3,002 3,619 1,780
Nisqually 1,157 1,770 1,514 1,388 2,207 1,995 2,067 379 183 506 1,317
Skagit 101 78 114 1,210 638 1,426 268 2,985 563 2,150 953
Skykomish 132 263 71 453 401 1,327 393 2,150 290 888 637
Kennedy Cr. 0 0 0 0 0 713 543 644 368 734 300
Snohomish 38 33 13 118 63 374 198 1,281 41 611 277
Nooksack 12 3 175 328 252 947 258 287 239 230 273
Quilcene 144 261 621 421 0 0 0 2 0 0 145
Skokomish 103 42 7 59 110 172 17 55 296 556 142
Duwamish 3 18 3 26 99 245 186 163 162 348 125

Sport Fishing in Marine Areas

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.

Successful chum salmon angler
Successful chum salmon angler

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 for kids or neophyte anglers to fish. 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. The best known of these nearshore fisheries occurs every year in the vicinity of the Hoodsport Salmon Hatchery in southern Hood Canal. Sport anglers found thatwith several hundred thousand hatchery chum salmon returning each year, phenomenal chum fishing was available at the hatchery in November. At first, anglers clustered at the hatchery outlet, but the crowds soon overwhelmed the capacity of the area. Chum anglers have branched out and have found less crowded, but still productive, chum fishing all along the south end of the canal. Many anglers now find productive areas by fishing from boats. Varied fishing techniques are used in Hood Canal and other 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 "Chum City", an article by Tony Dunnington in the October/November 1999 Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.

The Hoodsport Hatchery
The Hoodsport Hatchery on Hood Canal. There is a special Hoodsport Hatchery sport fishing zone within 2,000 feet of the mouth of Finch Creek (see Sport Regulation Pamphlet)

Sport Fishing in Rivers

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:

Commercial Chum Fisheries Management

The commercial, or All-Citizen's fishing season for chum salmon is developed each year in early spring through a process known as the North of Falcon, a joint proceeding of the Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings. The meetings are open to the public. Attendees include fish management personnel from Oregon, Washington, Treaty Tribes, and the Federal government, plus representatives from regional and municipal governments, industry sectors, interest groups, and the general public. The basic process followed in the pre-season planning endeavor is to review and agree upon pre-season forecasts of abundance from each salmon production area. Computer models are then used to design fisheries in areas, and during times when healthy stocks predominate, and weak stocks (low or declining abundance, or listed under the Endangered Species Act) are relatively unaffected. Hood Canal summer chum and chinook are of primary concern because of their threatened status under the Endangered Species Act (see the Summer Chum Salmon Conservation Initiative). Consequently, commercial fishing for salmon through the summer and fall is restricted, and release rules are implemented for purse seine and reef net fisheries that may encounter species of concern.

An agreed-to fishing plan is developed during the North of Falcon process and fisheries are scheduled during Management Periods. Management Periods for fisheries are based on the return run timing of each stock and area. Fishing openings are established during the central 80% of run timing (no fishing occurs during the first and last 10% of run timing unless it overlaps with healthy runs of other species). Managers use Management Weeks to schedule fisheries in Management Periods. Management Weeks are 7-day blocks of time with a Sunday start using the calendar year (see table below). Both Tribes and WDFW schedule fisheries during Management Weeks based on conservation and allocation sharing agreements.

2000 Commercial Fishing Management Weeks (Sunday-Saturday)

Week No. Start End Week No. Start End Week No. Start End
1 01-Jan 01-Jan 19 30-Apr 06-May 37 03-Sep 09-Sep
2 02-Jan 08-Jan 20 07-May 13-May 38 10-Sep 16-Sep
3 09-Jan 15-Jan 21 14-May 20-May 39 17-Sep 23-Sep
4 16-Jan 22-Jan 22 21-May 27-May 40 24-Sep 30-Sep
5 23-Jan 29-Jan 23 28-May 03-Jun 41 01-Oct 07-Oct
6 30-Jan 05-Feb 24 04-Jun 10-Jun 42 08-Oct 14-Oct
7 06-Feb 12-Feb 25 11-Jun 17-Jun 43 15-Oct 21-Oct
8 13-Feb 19-Feb 26 18-Jun 24-Jun 44 22-Oct 28-Oct
9 20-Feb 26-Feb 27 25-Jun 01-Jul 45 29-Oct 04-Nov
10 27-Feb 04-Mar 28 02-Jul 08-Jul 46 05-Nov 11-Nov
11 05-Mar 11-Mar 29 09-Jul 15-Jul 47 12-Nov 18-Nov
12 12-Mar 18-Mar 30 16-Jul 22-Jul 48 19-Nov 01-Dec
13 19-Mar 25-Mar 31 23-Jul 29-Jul 49 26-Nov 02-Dec
14 26-Mar 01-Apr 32 30-Jul 05-Aug 50 03-Dec 09-Dec
15 02-Apr 08-Apr 33 06-Aug 12-Aug 51 10-Dec 16-Dec
16 09-Apr 15-Apr 34 13-Aug 19-Aug 52 17-Dec 23-Dec
17 16-Apr 22-Apr 35 20-Aug 26-Aug 53 24-Dec 30-Dec
18 23-Apr 29-Apr 36 27-Aug 02-Sep 54 31-Dec 31-Dec

 

The fall chum runs in Puget Sound are considered healthy. The abundance of fall chum migrating through the Strait of Juan de Fuca during September and October, is monitored in-season by the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans using a test fishery in Area 20, south of Vancouver Island. Another test fishery is conducted during the month of October near the Puget Sound Salmon Management Area 9/10 line at Apple Cove Point (see Puget Sound Salmon Catch Areas & Exclusion Zones [PDF Format]). This is a cooperative effort between the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and WDFW. These test fisheries are some of the first indicators of how in-season abundance of the chum runs compare to pre-season forecasts. These test fisheries provide information for in-season updates and guide managers in deciding whether to liberalize, decrease, or maintain the fishing schedules agreed to during the pre-season process. The in-season update methodology is supplemented with data derived from commercial catches and spawning ground surveys.

Commercial Chum Salmon Fisheries

Chum salmon are caught commercially in Puget Sound waters primarily with gill nets and purse seines, and to a lesser extent by reef nets. Open fishing areas and seasons are designed to direct harvests on hatchery fish and healthy wild stocks. Most seasons occur in inside waters; primarily Bellingham and Skagit bays, Possession Sound/Port Gardner, south Puget Sound, and Hood Canal. The following is a brief description of these three types of commercial fishing gear that are used to capture chum salmon.

Test fishing catch of Puget Sound chum salmon in October 2000
Test fishing catch of Puget Sound chum salmon in October 2000
Stern-picker gill net boat retrieving the net
Stern-picker gill net boat retrieving the net
Purse seine vessel fishing for chum salmon in Hood Canal
Purse seine vessel fishing for chum salmon in Hood Canal

Gill nets

A gill net, as the name implies, is a net constructed and used in a manner where a fish swimming into it are usually caught by their gill covers. Also, some fish become entangled when their teeth and fins become snagged. The size of the mesh (that is, the hole formed by the twine), varies according to the size and physical characteristics of the type of fish to be caught. Mesh size is determined by measuring the distance from opposite knots in a vertical direction, and mesh of 6¼ inches is employed to catch chum (for sockeye, pink, and coho 5 inch is used and 7 inch for chinook). According to Washington law, gill nets in Puget Sound may have a length of up to 1,800 feet, without restriction as to the depth of the net. In practice, however, few nets exceed 120 meshes in depth because of handling problems.

The gill net is hung vertically in the water and is supported by a line at the surface, called the "cork line", which is treaded through floats at regular intervals. The bottom of the net is attached to a weighted line, called the "lead line". The gillnetter sets the net in water across a route known to be taken by salmon. The net is payed out from the stern or the bow of the fishing vessel, usually from a power-operated drum. Some smaller craft, such as used in Tribal river fisheries are not equipped for power operation.

Most gill net vessels are made of fiber-glass or aluminum, and are capable of greater speeds than the older wooden boats of earlier decades. The trend toward greater mobility has been prompted because of shorter fishing periods in various marine areas. Faster vessels are able to cover more areas and participate in more season openings.

Purse Seines

A salmon purse seine operates on an entirely different principle than the gill net approach of entangling fish in the net. A purse seine is designed to enclose a school of fish and to impound them in a small space from which they can be readily transferred to the hold of the vessel setting the net.

A seine has, in common with a gill net, both cork and lead lines. Large metal rings, through which a long rope known as a purse line is threaded, are attached to the lead line. Under Washington law, a salmon purse seine must not have meshes of less than 4 inches, except for the last 60 feet, the section called the bunt, which may be composed of mesh measuring 3½ inches. The depth of the bunt is limited to 200 meshes deep. Puget Sound salmon seines must not be over 1,800 feet in length along the cork line.

A "set" is made by pulling one end of the net into the water by means of a powered skiff and then following a semi-circular route with the vessel while paying out the rest of the net. The net is held in position against the current for varying lengths of time. The circle is then closed, the purse line is tightened, and the rings and lead line are lifted aboard, completely closing the bottom of the net. The fish are then trapped in a closed bag suspended below the floating cork line. The net is then hauled aboard the vessel; by means of a power-operated block attached to the boom, or with a power-operated drum similar in concept but larger than the drum used by gillnetters. Finally, the catch is confined in the bunt at the end of the net and is then brailed (dip netted) from the seine onto the deck of the vessel to sort out fish that may not be retained. After sorting is completed, the fish are passed into the vessel's hold.

Purse seines may be large combination vessels that are used in seining, or they may be converted to trawling gear, to fish for species other than salmon. Some seiners, particularly drum seiners are used solely for salmon fishing. Most purse seine boats are about 50 feet in length, with some as large as 90 feet.

Reef Nets

Reef nets are used only in a small fishery that occurs only in northern Puget Sound in Commercial Salmon Areas 7 and 7A. The reef net has been adapted from a tribal method of catching salmon. It consists of two large skiffs or small barges anchored parallel about 50 feet apart, with a net approximately 50 feet square rigged between. In the fishing position, three sides of the net form an open-ended floating trap. Leads of netting and cable direct the salmon toward the net and cause them to enter the trap. A lookout signals when salmon are seen entering the open end of the trap portion of the net, and the net is then closed by hand or by electric motors. The fish are sorted to remove fish that are not legal to retain, and the remaining fish are transferred to the fishing boat in the same manner as they are removed from a purse seine.

A printed copy of the Puget Sound Commercial Salmon Regulation Pamphlet can be obtained by contacting WDFW at (360) 902-2700. For additional online information on open commercial fishing seasons and regulations for chum salmon see: