Chum salmon is somehow the least popular of the Pacific salmon family to eat and target when fishing. I say you have to try fighting a chum salmon and tasting it before you discount fishing for chum in the ocean. Pound for pound, they’re a great fighting fish that can make your reel scream just as much as a Chinook can. When the chum salmon schools show up in the ocean, your rods will dance and you will dance around in your boat, and at the end of the day you might have a sore arm and belly from fighting them. If you haven’t experienced the madness of fishing for chum, here are some setup tricks and tips to help bring you more success.
It’s all about the flash! You want to have flashers and more flashers and more flashers. The more flashers you put on the downrigger, the more chances to attract the school of chum salmon. Use dummy flashers between your lines and on the cannon ball.
You can also convert a release clip line to a dummy flasher line by re-crimping it with a flasher instead of a release clip. For flasher tapes, try to avoid full glows. Stick with old-style flasher tape—plaid, Moon Jelly, Crushed Jelly, and metal. There are certain colors that will work better but also might present drawbacks. Green flasher works well, but chum salmon like biting green colour, which puts it at a disadvantage—sometimes, they bite the flasher instead of the hoochie with the hook.
Chum salmon like a slow troll, which means you would like to see your rectangle flashers just start rotating. Yeah … a slow trolling speed—right. Well, that means you can also use a dodger instead of a rectangle flasher on your line. Dodgers are made for trolling slow and provide that swooping side-to-side action. You can find dodgers with the same flash tapes as the normal flashers, but the plain chrome dodger will work fine.
Chum mostly feed on plankton and shrimp. Purple, pink, green, and different shades of purple and pink small hoochies (mini sardines) or Michael Bait work well. Tie up your hoochies with 40-lb fishing line with short leaders of two to three feet. It’s the same setup as with conventional flashers, but length of leader depends on your trolling speed. Here’s a tip: The length of leader really depends on how fast you want your flasher rotation or side-to-side movement. You really want to see your hoochie having some form of action created from your flasher or dodger. If you’re having a hard time finding your favorite color hoochies in that 2.5” size, you can take the 4.5” hoochies and trim the skirts down a bit. Adding flash to the hoochie will increase your chance of a bite—adding some shrimp or herring scent to the hoochie will help, too. When chum get near to their spawning stage before heading into the rivers, they somehow have an interest in feeding on herring. So you could rig up a cut plug herring on a long leader to a flasher. However, you can have more fun cut plug mooching for chum. Yep: cut plug for chum, since they mostly swim in shallow water near the ocean shorelines.
How shallow, you ask? You can find chum salmon jumping at the surface of the ocean down to 150 feet of water. Each day the chum can be at different depths due to baitfish or commercial netting, or whether they’re spooked. Usually it is good to start at 50 ft on the downrigger, then make adjustments. Make sure you keep an eye on your sounder to mark those fish and the depth they’re at, then try to fish right at that depth.
Since you’re fishing shallow water at a slow trolling speed, you can attempt to stack your fishing rod on the downrigger. This will provide more flashers in the water and cover the depths looking for the bites. By stacking them, we can look at the cannon ball as the zero mark. We have our dummy flasher attached to the cannon ball. Then five feet up from the cannon ball, we have our first release clip with one rod and flasher/hoochie setup. Then at 20 ft away from your first release clip, you add your second release clip and rod with flasher/hoochie on the downrigger. The 20-ft separation will help avoid the flasher movement tangling the two rod setups in the water while trolling. Also, with the 20-ft gap, you cover two different depths while trolling. This maximizes your chances of locating the fish. Have your second downrigger set up the same, but fish at different depths. For example, have one downrigger dropped at 125 ft and the second downrigger at 85 ft. Now you have four rods covering a large area—120 ft, 100 ft, 80 ft, and 60 ft. You now have become a mini-commercial troller. If you are really good at stacking the rods, you can even attempt stacking 3 rods on the downrigger. Add stopper beads onto your downrigger line after you attach your second release clip; that way you will be able to retrieve your release clip when bringing up your cannon ball.
Mooching cut plugs for chum is fun, because there is less gear to deal with. The setup is just like mooching for Chinook—60 to 100 pulls will put you in the fish zone. You’ll have a huge grin on your face when you hook a chum; it’s just you and the fish with no other gear.
You just might get hooked on fishing for chum in the fall, and it may become a favorite fall fishing trip. By the way, smoked chum salmon is tasty and awesome.