Meet The Fish: Chum Salmon
The Chum is often regarded as the "Ugly Stepsister" of Alaskan salmon species, but this stepsister can really pack a punch. The second-largest of the Alaskan salmonids, adult chums average 8-13 lbs with the occasional specimen topping 30lbs. Often called "Dog Salmon" due to their fierce dentition exhibited during spawning as well as the males tendency to bite and nip at each other, the chum is available from May-October with the best fishing in July near the mouths of their natal streams. Chums are abundant in all regions of the state except the Kenai peninsula and are most populous in Southeast Alaska, with some runs numbering in the millions.
Gear and Flies
While not a spectacular fighter, the chum is the bulldog of the salmon world. Tenacious and strong, the chum is best tamed with an 8 or 9wt 9-foot rod matched with a dependable, high-capacity reel with a good drag system. Depending upon the method of presentation, fly line choices include sinking tip lines, full-float weight-forward lines, and multi-tip systems to deliver your offering to the proper depth. Small, brightly colored flies are often the key to the chum angler's success, with popular patterns including the Pink Neon Shrimp, Purple Egg Sucking Leech, and the Chartreuse Everglow.
Chum Salmon can vary in size averaging 8-12 lbs, but can push into the high twenties or even larger. We recommend having a spare rod along as more rods are broken on chums than any other salmon species in Alaska due to their large size. We recommend a sturdy fast action 9' 8-10 wt rod. In the Switch world, rods rated for 450-570 grain lines, considered 8-9 wts, are a must. In the Spey world 12'6-14" rods rated for 480-600 grain lines are ideal.
Chums are true dogs (pun intended) when it comes to the fight. They are not aerial fish like most of their cousins, they pull like a pit bull and don't give up. Reels should have medium to high line capacity and a sturdy drag is a must. Not only do chums blow through rods, but they easily burn through a weak drag system as well. Don't skimp here, you will want some extra help with a big chum.
For singlehand rods, we suggest having a floating line and a short-fast sink tip. Chums are found scooting along shallow gravel bars, which is where you will want your floating line. Chums also like to sit in deep fast water, where they can dart away from predators such as bears and eagles, this is where your sink tip with be your go-to fly line. Same goes with Switch and Spey lines; a lighter Scandi Head with a floating or intermediate sink tip is good for throwing smaller flies, while a Skagit tip with both medium and fast sink tips is great to have as back up.
Flies for chums vary depending upon conditions and how long they have been out of saltwater. With fresh chums, we suggest using pink, fuchsia and chartreuse flies in a variety of sizes, the more flash the better. For chums that have been out of saltwater for some time, try smaller, darker flies. Colors such as purple, black, and blue are ideal, with minimal flash. If water levels are low, try small flies with moderate flash.