Doc, I need an arm transplant!
By Rodney Hsu, Fishing with Rod | Published in November 2001
When it comes to fishing in November, chum salmon is often the species that pops up on my mind immediately. The chum salmon is a species that can either be loved and hated by anglers. They are viewed as pests due to their appearance and relatively poor eating quality, yet they are pursued by many since they are often found in high abundance and can be caught with ease. Personally I think chum salmon should be ranked as one of the better sportfish species in BC. Their strength can often put on a tough battle on the fishing rod, reel and your arms!
This November was no exception, I managed to test myself several times against these purple monsters. One weekend morning in early November, I woke up rather late as usual so I could get my beauty sleep. There were only several hours of daylight left as sunset was around 5pm, so I quickly phoned my good friend Albert to invite him for a day of chum fishing. After the phone conversation, it was showtime and by noon we were ready for the ultimate test at the Cheakamus River. The river was already packed with chum salmon as expected, the water clarity and flow were not ideal but still fishable. Five minutes after arrival, I was ready for my first cast as everything has been pre-tied. I cast a several meters out from shore and paid full attention to my float that was drifting slowly down the river. Before I knew it, the float shot under the water by 1 foot and bang, fish on! At first it felt like a large dead weight, but soon the sleepy giant was waken up. Line started peeling off my baitcaster and several minutes later I was 50 yards downstream from where I was standing before. After a lengthy fight, the fish was finally in sight. I moved into a shallower water, brought the fish closer and grabbed onto the fish's tail. With one hand grabbing the tail of a large active chum and the other hand holding onto my rod, needless to say I was in a very awkward position. I quickly clamped onto my rod between my legs and slackened the line. Finally things were somewhat under control. The fish was then unhooked and allowed to swim away. From hooking to releasing, controlling a chum salmon can definitely be a difficult task. After the first fish, I was half soaked, sweaty and exhausted. My heart was still pounding and my breaths were heavy. The good news was, I was no longer cold. For the next two hours, both Albert and I would go through the exact same process that was written above thirty more times. The short excursion was filled with constant excitement but the pain in the arms and legs were not felt until the following morning. Although the bodily pain after each trip is unavoidable, anglers always go back for more.
Fishing for chum salmon is easy if you are already familiar with either the driftfishing, flyfishing or spinning techniques. They can be caught by using any of the techniques mentioned above. When drifting in fast flowing water, my personal favorite wool colour is definitely chartreuse. It is not always the optimal colour to use however, as water clarity, lighting and many other environmental factors may affect your presentation greatly. Other colours that can bring great success include pink, peach, orange and green. The size of your wool presentation also matters. The size of your hook should be between No. 2 to 1/0. Smaller hooks can result in losing the fish while larger hooks can often snag the fish easily. Set your float depth a foot shallower than the actual depth. If your float depth is deeper and your rig is dragging along the bottom, the tendency of snagging either the bottom or the fish will be higher.
If you are planning to spin, most of the lures will bring you fish. My favorite is the Gibbs 1/4 ounce green/blue/silver scale croc spoon, which has produced numerous fish in the past when fishing in calm pools. Spinners also work well and using homemade spinners is a cheap method since gear loss is common when fishing for chum salmon. When spinning, allow your lure to sink to near the bottom before retrieving. I like to retrieve at a slow speed. If you feel a small bump or light resistance, don't set the hook as most of the time they are simply rubbing by the fish. If you do set the hook, fish are often snagged and snagged fish are harder to handle. Like pink salmon, chum salmon will not hesitate to attack lures. Most of the bites that you will feel on the spinning gears are usually surprisingly huge.
While chum salmon are not favoured by anglers when it comes to dining, one must not handle them roughly when landing and releasing. It is important to remember as ethical anglers that we need to treat all fish species as equal. Over the past few years as sportfishing for chum salmon has grown, incorrect catch and release practices such as dragging the fish along the bank and kicking them back into the river have become common sights in many popular BC rivers. If a fish is to be released, it is important that we do not damage the fish so its mortality is not increased. Dragging the fish to shore can remove the protective slime on its body and create scars that maybe infected with bacteria. After a lengthy battle, the best way to release a chum salmon is to keep the fish in the water, tail it with one hand and finally unhook it. Allow the fish to catch its breath in the water before releasing since it has just been through a aerobic workout. Sure you will get your hands wet and slimy, but you will help your fish to complete its spawning mission. Fishing for chums with a partner is often wise so one person can assist with the release. A pair of waders or waterproof boots are also handy since you have to do the whole release process in the water.
Once entering the freshwater system, unlike the other salmonid species, chum salmon will change body colour more readily. In the Fraser River, most of the fish undergo colour changes in the estuary. In the Squamish system, chum salmon tend to go through this process later due to the close proximity of the river to the ocean. Coloured fish are not ideal for consumption since the fish are either close to spawning or have spawned. To recognize the freshness of a chum salmon, look for its body colour and presence of sealice. If the fish is still somewhat silver in colour with a few streaks of light purple, then it indicates that it is still relatively fresh. Presence of sealice also indicates that the fish has just entered the stream from the ocean.
Chum fishing is a good alternative when fishing for coho and other fall species fail to produce since chum salmon will bite throughout the day. Be prepared to endure in long battles however, as these fighters spare no mercy. Fishing for chum salmon can be done between early October and early December. Make sure you get out there and do it often while you can!