September 2012

September 2012
September 2012
September 2012
September 2012

THE CHARM OF CHUM SALMON

by Larry E. Stefanyk

"Chum salmon are not considered a sport fish and are not regularly sought after by anglers." Excerpt, Freshwater Fishes of Canada (1973)
"Chum salmon are strong fighters, but do not provide much of a sport fishery." Excerpt, Freshwater Gamefish of North America (1987)
"Chum salmon are not a focused target of anglers. They are an incidental catch on occasion...." Excerpt, Ken Shultz's Fishing Encyclopaedia (2000)

All things change over time.

Recreational anglers hadn't been snubbing poor old Oncorhynchus keta over the years; they were simply too busy fishing for Chinooks and coho to bother with dog salmon, more properly known as chum salmon. Ocean chums have a steel blue back, silver sides and a silvery white belly. The upper sides and back may be finely speckled with black, but there are no distinct spots on the back, sides, or fins. Spawning males are dark olive to almost black along the back, and their greyish red sides are superimposed with dark green vertical bars. Spawning females are similar, but less distinctly marked.
At sea their diet consists of tiny crustaceans (copepods), sea squirts (tunicates), and euphausiids, but they also eat other fish, sea butterflies (pteropods) and squid.

Most BC chums mature in their third or fourth year of life. Five-year-olds occur regularly, but form a small part of the returning stock. Males grow faster and larger than females, and the average size of spawners is about 10 to 13 pounds. Chums have been recorded to 45-pounds, and the International Game Fish Association record weighed 35 pounds. It was caught by Todd Johansson at Edye Pass near the mouth of the Skeena River, on 11 July 1995.
Pink salmon had the same bad rap as chum until around 1957, and then commercial trollers discovered how to take pinks on artificial lures. Their system was adopted by recreational anglers, and the tactic that eventually evolved is to troll slowly in a straight line at depths ranging from subsurface to 100-feet, using small hootchies or lures in various shades of pink or red, trailing them 22 to 28-inches behind a chrome flasher trimmed with red or pink.
About 10 years later, sockeye started attracting attention when anglers in northwestern Washington discovered they would take small, red-coloured plugs and spoons trolled slowly at depths of 35 to 90-feet. The setup is similar to that for pinks, but a 27 inch leader is usually preferred, and as many lures as possible are stacked on the downrigger cables as an added attraction to the sockeye.
These same basic setups and trolling tactics also appeal to chum salmon, but as these fish seldom appear until after anglers have stopped fishing for sockeye and pinks, the correlation was never widely recognized. More chums were caught in recent years, but still incidentally by anglers targeting the other four salmon species.

Anyone who hooks a chum for the first time is usually shocked by the strength and violence of the fight that follows, especially if it involves a large male. As they are the latest running of the Pacific salmon, anglers after late-season northern coho are most likely to intercept them by accident. If migrating chums remain in an area for any length of time, anglers may start intentionally targeting them; however, this still remained primarily an opportunistic fishery until the early 1990s. From that point, much of the credit for developing a serious recreational chum fishery goes to the Campbell River guiding fraternity. As news of the Campbell River chum fishery spreads, interest is growing in other areas with strong runs. However, in some places the arrival of chums and bad weather are synonymous, while in others with good numbers of Chinook and coho, fishing guides in Campbell River are continuing to guide well into October and November weather permitting.
They provided some exceptional recreational fishing opportunities in Johnstone Strait and upper Discovery Passage. It is surprisingly how good the angling opportunity is and it will become more popular as anglers discover it’s potential. Chums are in the Campbell River area from mid-September until well into November. As they move southward from Johnstone Strait into upper Discovery Passage, they provide excellent action. Many are headed for the Campbell/Quinsam system, but those travelling farther south might be found anywhere from Whisky Point (Quathiaski Cove) southward along the eastern shoreline to the Oyster River mouth.
Anglers who had never considered fishing for chums were attracted by stories of fish that were downright dirty fighters on the end of a line, and those used to catching chums close to their home streams were pleasantly surprised to discover that those early run fish were big, bright silver and of good eating quality. Chums often stay bright until they enter fresh water, but in some cases they start to darken beforehand and the quality of their flesh decreases to where they are considered good only for smoking.
Nothing is as effective as word-of-mouth advertising, and anglers were soon talking about this exciting new fishery. As a result, it is growing more popular every year, and each season sees the tackle and tactics refined and polished to yield better catches.

The two most common tactics are motor mooching and downrigging. The best mooching is during flood tides on bright, sunny days. On dull, cloudy days switch to downrigging with a slow-rolling flasher with blue trim, and either a hot pink or pink/blue hootchie on leaders ranging from 36 to 42 inches. Try slipping the motor out of gear when a fish is hooked, then letting the other line settle, chums often hit a hootchie or bait while it's sinking down behind the flasher.

Some guide preferences are anchovy, cut plug or a red/purple Apex trolled slowly at depths of 20 to 70 feet. Trolling from the surface to 60 feet with a flasher trailing a black, purple/black or army truck hootchie, or a transparent hootchie which simulates a jellyfish.
Other guides use a small, sparse hootchies in various shades of pink, red or orange, rigged 27 inches behind an O'Ki or Hot Spot flasher with orange or red trim, and trolls them behind a downrigger at dead-slow speeds others use a white flasher, a long leader of 50 to 70 inches, and a small pink hootchie with a ghost stripe. Which ever tackle combination you use you will catch chum.

Deteriorating weather in October and November usually adds to the problem of the angling opportune for chum.

Fly fishers elsewhere have long had an interest in chum salmon, try predominantly black patterns like the Skunk, best known as a steelhead fly. Standard chartreuse patterns like people use in the river for chums will also produce, but not like a Skunk. At times chums can be everywhere and, last time out I saw chums schooling around, staging along the kelp beds, and I kept watching them.I cast a Herring pattern right in at the kelp, let it sink for a few seconds, and then gave it a couple of strips and boom! They are just fantastic fighters -- probably from six to ten pounds on average, but there were a couple of real big ones. Like their dorsal come right out of the water and the line just rips -- they would put any coho to shame when they are that fresh. Give it a try you will not be disappointed.

 

September 2012
Huxley’s Run: 

COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS

Some folks are already out there searching for Christmas presents they hope will bring happiness to family members or friends. Others won't get into the buying mood until they have been softened up by strings of colored lights and strains of Christmas carols wafting through the air. However, many of us procrastinate, waiting until the last possible moment before joining those seething masses of equally panic-stricken shoppers in an annual tradition that resembles piranhas on a blood-crazed feeding frenzy.
If recipients of your gifts include anglers or a would-be anglers, your task is simplified, for no other form of recreation has as many gadgets related to it (useful and otherwise). Following are a few gift ideas based on items with which I am familiar. Bearing in mind that some of you might be restricted financially, there are plenty of moderately-priced gift ideas.
First, if no hints have been dropped beforehand, ask your angler's friends for suggestions about what might be a useful or meaningful gift. Another good information source might be the local tackle shop where your angler deals.
Anglers are often attracted to old equipment, lures and books, so don't pass up second hand stores, garage sales and flea markets as possible sources. One friend is both an ardent angler and unrepentant garage sale junkie. Over the years, his presents to me have included antique salmon spoons and plugs, a beautiful fly reel, and several fishing books that are long out of print. All have been gleaned from his quests, often at prices ranging from 10 cents to a dollar.
Salmon, trout and bass anglers will welcome lures of every description, packages of hooks, swivels and sinkers, or spools of monofilament fishing line. Steelheaders can always use another bobber, a roll of lead wire for sinkers, a few winged drifters or an assortment of soft plastic baits.
When in doubt, it is hard to beat a good quality pocket knife. As an eight-year-old growing up In Alberta during the '50s, I received a jackknife for Christmas. Unless interest has been expressed in a multi-bladed, gimmick-laden model, stick with a two-blade pen knife or a three-blade stock knife. Of various brands used over the years, my favorites are Victorinox (Swiss Army), Western and Buck.
A great little stocking-stuffer is a Normark knife sharpener. Slightly larger than a package of paper matches, it consists of two ceramic rods permanently mounted in a notched plastic blade guide. Carried in pocket or tackle box, it is handy for keeping cutting edges keen, especially while filleting or cleaning fish.
Other small items to consider are folding scissors, clippers, needle-nosed pliers with side-cutters, a filleting knife, and polarized sunglasses designed for anglers. If your angler's main interest is fly-fishing, a pocket-sized fly box, or even a new fly line. The latter is a prime example of where you should seek expert advice, for fly lines are confusing. They are available in several configurations (level, single-taper, double-taper and weight forward taper), and the line's weight must match a particular fly rod's action. To further confuse the issue, fly lines are also classified as floating and sinking tip, along with several types that sink entirely at speeds ranging from slow to fast. Make sure at the time of purchase that the line can be exchanged if it’s not the right weight or style.
In spite of folks who claim that books are passe, new fishing titles continue arriving on the market with satisfying regularity. A book is portable, requires no batteries or external power, and can be viewed at the reader's discretion. Instant replays are accomplished at the touch of a finger, or one can skip entire parts that are of little or no interest. Anglers generally appreciate reading material that relates to their favorite fish or fishing technique. A "best buy" in the trout angling category is Ultimate Trout Fishing the Pacific Northwest, the information is factual and the colour photographs and the water color illustrations have established a new standard of excellence.
Many of Roderick Haig-Brown's early works have been reprinted in soft cover. These are excellent books and are worth reading.
Many fly fishers consider Jack Shaw's Fly Fish the Lakes their bible. Although it deals primarily with Interior trout fishing and fly patterns, it is filled with information that anglers across Canada have found of value.
An excellent buy is The Gilly. Several of the best-known anglers in our province contributed to this hard-cover collection, whether your angler is dedicated to fly fishing or simply thinking about taking it up, The Gilly will prove to be a valuable and interesting read.
For the angler wishing to learn the art of fly fishing on Vancouver Island, Island Fly Fisherman is a must have book, some of the Island’s best known anglers have contributed to this soft cover collection.
Saltwater enthusiasts will enjoy Island Salmon Fisherman and Island Halibut Fisherman which, beside all the great information, includes way-points on where to fish.
And, of course, there’s always a subscription to Island Fisherman magazine, a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year and years to come.
Now, dear reader, assuming this column has provided some useful ideas, get out there and do your Christmas shopping early. It will be much easier on your nerves, and quite frankly I don't need all that competition on Christmas Eve.

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