Hood Canal Chum Salmon Fishing

 

There is a good run of fall Chum salmon in Hood Canal because the WDFW has been raising Chum in the Hood Canal and Skokomish hatchery which are situated at the lower, southern hook area of the canal.   These Chum are raised mainly for the commercial netters, but the sport fishermen have found they can catch some also if they diversify.    WDFW says that the yearly Chum run in Hood Canal is over 1 million fish, and that it is underfished by sportfishermen.   This is probably because some sport fishermen think Chum were raised mainly for the commercial netters and that the table quality is not equal to other salmon, which is untrue unless they are taken so close to the spawning beds that they have deteriorated.

When caught in saltwater chums can still be very bright and great table fare, considering their very high fat content.  But by properly bleeding and icing these fish they can still make a delicious meal either on the barbeque or by smoking them.

For a long time it was thought Chum could not be readily caught on sport gear.   Also, it takes a while to perfect the technique of sportfishing for catching them.

When :  These fish may start to move in about mid October.  By the end of October you should see more coming thru, and by the middle of November the run is in full swing, and can last up into December.  These fish have to funnel down the canal past the floating bridge.  The bridge is the boundary between WDFW marine area 9 & 12.  One WDFW fish biologist said that Chum swim in the top section of the water when migrating, therefore many of them seem to be confused and slowed down by the floating bridge.  The fish will swarm thru when the bridge is opened for the nuclear subs to pass thru.  If the season is open in area 9, it may be beneficial to fish north of the bridge, early to mid part of the season. 

It may take 2-3 weeks for the bulk of them to move down the canal from the bridge to the hatcheries at the southern end.

The town of Hoodsport Community Assn. puts on a Chum Derby usually the 2nd week-end of November.

Where :  Fish can be caught about anywhere in WDFW marine area 12, which is the canal south of the bridge. They will be contained in the canal, as this water body is a long and narrow section, they can not stray, plus they are heading south to the hatcheries and home.  The main concentration of fish will be encountered south of Ayock Point and in Annas Bay at the "Great Bend", near the hatcheries, to the mouth of the Tahuya River.  The Hood Canal Hatchery is right off Highway 101,  in the town of Hoodsport.  

Tide :  The tide here is not really the issue as it is elsewhere, but most fishermen seem to prefer the incoming tide and up thru to the start of the outgoing.  The bank fishers/waders have a better shot at it from low tide up to mid part of the incoming tide.  The high tides seem to bring the fish closer to the shore and into the rivers. 

Size :  Most of these mature fish will be in the 12 to 15# size with a occasional monster to 20#.

Boat Fishing :  The boat fishing may be divided into 4 separate groups. 

(Group 1)  This type of boat fishing will be from a anchored boat in shallow water, usually near the mouth of the river at the hatcheries.  There will be many bank fishermen here, so the plan is to anchor outside of them in the channel.  Most fishermen will cast a green corky, spin-glo and or yarn just like they would for steelhead.  You could also use a spinner, fished the same way.  

However the best success seems to be on bobber and jigs.  Bobber fishing virtually eliminates snagging.   Don't just let the bobber sit there but give it an ever so slow retrieve.  Besides green pinks have worked very well for us.  Some use everything from beau macs to yarn tied on a jig head to small hoochies over a bullet jig head.  Actually some favorites for years was a "storm jerkin minnow" which was a plastic herring like imitation but they don't sell them anymore.  Adding a small chunk of prawn or scent to your jig is often very helpful.

Before the jig thing the go to was a "humpie special" which is just a pink steelie type spoon but we also used pixies/steelies.  Anything you use needs to have siwash.  Ultra slow retrieve is key.

A general rule of thumb as to where the fish are is incoming/South outgoing/North.  Regardless of the tide, if there aren't many fish around just look for finning to tell you where the pods are.

(Group 2) 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.  

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 mooching leader with double 1/0 to 4/0 hooks and a bait of 3" to a  maximum of a 4" herring or anchovy (or herring strip) fished on a weighted leader .  Run an small egg slider sinker on the mainline with a swivel to stop it and 20" of 12# to 15# leader to the bait. This rig is drifted at a depth that you see fish on your finder, usually  from 6' to maybe 40' deep depending on the water depth. You do not need it far from the boat, maybe 35' to 50' is enough. 

 This bait rig is used 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.  If you get nothing, on the drift, slowly reel it in and start over.

One thing he has found is that the fish are spooky, so don't drop an anchor with a big splash, or run right thru a school of these fish if you expect to catch many there soon.

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.    

(Group 3)  Many boats fishing here may be trolling.  First off, troll SLOW and with the tide, use a 2 oz mooching sinker and a small green spoon, Spi-N-Glo, etc.   These fish tend to be in the upper 30' of water, and many times right on the surface and near shore.   These boats tend to stay close to the hatchery, trolling either north or south of the hatchery near shore.

Trolling a dodger or a large Pro Troll flasher with a mini squid rigged on a large Siwash 4/0-5/0 hook works well when trolled dead slow.  The old standby offering would be to use a green or chartreuse squid 40" behind a green flasher and again  DEAD SLOW.  Fish the top 50-60' of water in known migration routes, or just watch closely and you amy see them jumping and finning if they’re in the area.   If they aren’t spotted, move around until a school is located before putting the gear back in the water.  If you have downriggers you may want to start fishing with many different setups ranging in depth from 10 to 60 feet off your downriggers until you find out what depth the fish are running and the lure they like that day.  

(Group 4)  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 that with 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.

Most other fishermen who are used to other salmon fishing probably use a downrigger, however fishing the shallow depth these Chum are usually found in, a diver will also do well, however make it greenish in color.  Troll slow, as this is the key to successful chum harvest, you just want that flasher to slip-slide back and forth, try to not even get a roll. Trolling for this group will be from the hatchery to the mouth of the Skokomish River and out toward the Tahuya River.

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

Chum seem to prefer the color green, whether it is a fly, spoon, spinner,  yarn or a combination thereof.   Therefore if you have to use a downrigger, hang a green glow Hot Spot with a green Grand Slam Bucktail, squid, Coyote or Coho Killer spoon, or maybe even a green Apex plug.  You could also add some green yarn on the lures, if your little heart desires.  Also you can use a dark purple or chartreuse 3.5" squid behind a flasher with long 50# leader 36 to 42 inches.  If you run herring behind a dodger or flasher, fish the smallest whole herring you can get your hands on.

Here is also a place to hang on a Fish Flash attractor in green color about 12" behind a diver. 

There has not been enough secrets shared yet to be sure that scent does any good, but a some sources say use herring or shrimp scent.

These fish tend to run in schools, so if you catch one, go back and try that location again.  Watch the surface for jumping and fining fish. If you are using a downrigger snap your gear on about a fathom apart the more the better, use as many as your boat will carry.  Schooling chums like lots of flashers.  You can actually get the entire school to follow you on a straight tack if your speed is right.  Some say Chum seem to be moody at times, however it may be that they run in schools and you just have to find them.  They seem to have somewhat of a soft mouth, so don't put a lot of pressure on them, play them out before trying to net them.

Where to Launch :  There are a few to choose from in this area, but the main ones will be as follows.    

(1) Hood Canal Recreational Park near the Tacoma Public Utilities powerhouse and was operated by them. 
    As of 2012 it was sold to the Skokomish Indian tribe

      A good 2 lane concrete ramp with lots of gravel parking.  No loading dock, but a decent gravel shore on both sides of the
      launch to beach the boat on.  There is a problem of launch or take out at a tide of anything below a 0.0 tide, as
      below where the concrete ends, there is a washout caused by power loading.  No launch of $8 & parking fee of $7.00
      Restrooms and picnic areas also.

(2)
There are a couple of private launches on the west side of the canal, one being at Mike's Beach Resort about 10
      miles north of Hoodsport.  This one you have to let him back your boat in with his jeep that he has a hitch on the
      front.  And a low tide may be a hindrance.

(3) Trident Cove State Park is located on the west shore about 15 miles north of Hoodsport.  It is a wide single lane
     concrete ramp with a dock.  The paved parking area is up on the same level as the highway, while there is a road
      from there down to the launch area.  There is a picnic area.  $5 launch fee.

(4)
Union Ramp, operated by Mason County.  A 2 lane concrete ramp with no dock, that is immediately West of the
      Hood Canal Marina.  Very limited parking.

(5)
Twanoh State Park.  This launch has a 2 lane concrete ramp with 2 loading docks, however the Parks Dept. may
      pull docks for the winter by the time Chum are in.  No water off the concrete ramp at a minus tide & don't try to
      back out on the gravel, as it is soft.   Plenty of paved parking.  
There is a picnic area.   $5 launch fee.

(6) 
Seabeck Marina on the east shore has a sling.

(7)
On the east shore there is a public launch south of Seabeck at Misery Point.


Hood Canal Bridge Fishing Pontoon: This is open for Chum after September 30.

Bank Fishing :    There is a closure at the entrance of the hatchery, so be sure to read and understand it's boundaries.  I have tried to interpret these closure regulations at this hatchery, NS have trouble understanding it.   I asked a fish checker there and apparently what it means is that you can NOT fish salmon in fresh water, but only SALT WATER.  So in essence how I now understand it is that you can stand on the bank and cast into salt water.   You CAN NOT turn around, cast into fresh water if you are near the stream.  But as the tide comes in the shoreline changes so that saltwater will later be all the way up to the bank.  I have seen on a low incoming tide, the stream being narrow and shallow, salmon swim between fisherpersons legs if they were standing in the stream channel.   But they can not touch these fish, much less kick a stranded wriggling one back into the water. 

Varied fishing techniques are used in Hood Canal and other near-shore 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 near-shore fishing techniques see "Chum City", an article by Tony Dunnington in the October/November 1999 Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine. 

Waders at the Hoodsport Hatchery at High Tide The same scenario only at Low Tide

Most of this fishing will take place near the Hood Canal Hatchery at Finch Creek.  There is limited parking at the hatchery.  The term bank fishing here may be misleading as you really need chest waders.  For a newbie to this type of fishing, it is interesting to walk out past the ponds at the hatchery, just stand there on the catwalks and get an education.

Another spot is in the Skokomish River east of Hiway 101.   Many fishermen here will drift eggs or yarn and red Corkies.  Others use corkies and yarn soaked in shrimp oil, sand shrimp, brass spoons, and the like.   Some will just use 1/0 hooks and green and /or chartreuse yarn.   Chum are not picky and they are super aggressive fish.   Once you find them, it is usually not a matter of what they "will" bite on but finding something they "won't" bite on

There is another place you can bank fish also, it is called Entai Creek, it is south of Potlatch State Park.   You'll see lots of cars parked there.   What most people here use it seems, is a black corkie and green or chartreuse yarn.  Some fishermen will use flies and spinners.  And the snaggers like buzz bombs!!  There are places along the lower canal where you will see a school of them jumping and fining from along the road, you can stop and fish there also.

In freshwater chums are not that willing to hit lures.  Sometimes pulling plugs, straight or with a wrap can be the ticket, but usually they have to be very fresh fish.

One successful angler advises that his two best tidewater/river baits seem to be an orange corky with a bit of green yarn, fished as you would steelhead or a pink/white jig under a float.

 Jig fishing is another method, use a hot pink, purple and orange, hot green,  under a float should do fine, however  if things get tough and you don't hook one for a half hour, add some prawn.    In the small rivers jigs seem to be very effective.

These areas are sometimes called "Combat fisheries" as they are usually very crowded, if you don't tie your fish to your belt, they may disappear by the next time you look.  You really do not need explicit directions, as when the fish are in, just look for lots of cars parked along the road and fishermen on the banks or in the water. 

As with most fish, fresh rain and therefore higher river water cranks up their bite potential.

Fish coming up Finch Creek at the hatchery -- NOTE the narrow travel lane Chum taken below the hatchery 11-13-05
   

Care of the Fish After Landing :  These fish are not as firm a fleshed as Chinook or Coho, prime saltwater caught fish are fine table fare.   As the spawning season approaches they start to darken up, but when caught in saltwater they are usually in good enough condition to be well worth taking home.  The above fish were taken just below the Hoodsport hatchery in the mouth of Finch Creek.   Chum do not travel far up the small rivers or creeks to spawn, so as they get closer to spawning, even though they are still in saltwater, the flesh deteriorates.  The meat of a saltwater bright fish is normally a light pink, but can change to a gray color and flavor disappears as spawning time approaches.

 Ideally, you should immediately bleed them by cutting the gills.  Then, it is best to ice them down as soon as possible.  They are excellent this time of the year when Bar-B-Q'ed, or smoked if you get there before they get really "sore backed".

Hoodsport hatchery phone 360-877-5222

Copyright © 2004 - 2016 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

Back to Ramblings
 

Originated 8-15-04, Last updated   12-20-2016   ***                                          
to contact the author click here