It’s the time of year where the once colorful maple and alder trees shed their golden leaves and give way to bare branches. Pumpkin patches, corn mazes with the family, and for some; salmon fishing, all become phased out as we make the natural turn into winter. Fortunately for us anglers, there’s really no need to hang up our rods and stow away our reels just yet. For winter, in all its blustery glory, brings plenty of excitement and opportunity for both the seasoned and greenhorn anglers alike.
From around mid-October to early December, Chum salmon arrive to the Puget Sound in numbers that far surpass that of any other salmon species in our region. Along with holding the title of making up the largest biomass out of all of the salmonids that make their returns from the Pacific Ocean to the Northwest, they also hold the title of the least desired salmon when it comes to table fare. It might be the “spawned out” coloring that the fish have well before they hit the creeks, it could be the large teeth resembling a K-9 that protrude out of their mouths (hence the commonly used name “dog salmon”), or it could be that Chum salmon flesh simply just doesn’t hold a candle to that of the chinook, or the coho. This might be true in a sense. The fat content is possibly the lowest out of all the salmon, the flesh is flakier and lacks the red or pink hue that is signature to most, but, if one was to look at chum as its own unique thing, and to not compare apples to oranges (so to speak), Chum salmon can be appreciated as its own freestanding type of fish. A good overnight brine and a smoke bath for several hours turns this very misunderstood fish into a delectable snack. I’ll often cook a chum salmon the same way I would a rainbow trout, by wrapping a fillet in tinfoil with butter, garlic, lemon, and other aromatics, and then baking in the oven. The culinary potential is there if you’re willing to get creative.
I tend to think very food forwardly when writing about fish and fishing, but it would be a massive
disservice to both the chum salmon and the dedicated anglers who fish for them if I was to leave out what is potentially the biggest draw to this fishery, and that is…the fight. Chum salmon may arguably be the strongest pound for pound salmon species out there, and they can also grow to be extraordinarily large. It’s not uncommon to hook a 15-20 lb fish that will give any strong-armed angler a good run for their money as they work to bring them ashore. Chum fishing from the shore is often done on a sliding bobber with an anchovy, but anglers can also find success with spinners, or by casting flies. Though a bit more challenging, some anglers will move away from the shores and fish the salt by trolling a flasher and a hoochie at low speeds, or by slowly mooching a cut plug herring. Anglers fishing from boats may have more difficulties enticing a bite, or even getting on top of the fish in the first place, but they’ll be rewarded with a day of fishing completely void of the combat style environment that is so often associated with chum fishing.
There is no shortage of locations to find these fish on their way back to spawn. Typically, the best fishing for chum will occur during an incoming tide where the saltwater meets the mouth of a creek, river, or a hatchery. These areas are known as terminal fisheries, and here I will list 7 Washington terminal fisheries that are sure to produce. Keep in mind, many of these fisheries see a lot of anglers at any given time, so try to play nice out there!
McLane creek is a very popular south Sound fishery that sits at the southeastern section of Mud Bay in Northwest Olympia. When the tide is high it can be an absolute frenzy, and it’s not uncommon for 3 or 4 anglers to have a fish on their lines at the same time. Most anglers park on the side of Mud Bay Road and walk down to the overpass near the restaurant. The saltwater bottlenecks here, thus providing a waterway thick with salmon. There’s not a whole lot of bank access, so if you want to move away from the crowd, try HWY 101 just west of Mud Bay Road where the water bottlenecks a second time underneath the highway.
Perry Creek, also in Northwest Olympia, and only minutes form McLane Creek, allows anglers another opportunity to tap into the productive Mud Bay action. Old HWY 410, just west of, and parallel to the 101, provides access to this fishery. Anglers can expect to catch chum in the 10-15 lb range here, but as with all chum fisheries, it’s not uncommon to land a hog or two that exceeds this average.
Hood Canal Hatchery
Located just 20 minutes north of Shelton, the Hoodsport hatchery may arguably be the best chum fishery in the region. Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife owns the hatchery and allows public access to the waters directly in front of the hatchery itself. A metal stair set allows anglers to walk down to the beach where they can tap into the thousands of retuning salmon on an incoming tide. It’s important to pay close attention to what the tides are doing, as it’s easy to get trapped on the beach as the water level rises.
Located in Shelton, on Highway 3, Johns creek meets with the tidal flats of Oakland Bay. A “public fishing” sign marks Johns Creek trail which will bring you down to Fisherman’s Point on the edge of the tide flats. The area is surrounded with private land, so pay close attention to signage. Johns Creek is known for being one of the earlier spots for fall-run chum salmon to arrive.
As mentioned before, combat fishing is often synonymous with chum salmon fishing, Minter Creek is no exception to this rule. That being said, if you choose your days wisely you can often avoid the crowds. Minter Creek is located on the Key Peninsula about 30 minutes northwest of Tacoma. Chum salmon make their way up Henderson Bay and into Minter Bay where they finally reach the hatchery via Minter Creek.
Chico Creek is located on the Kitsap peninsula, about an hour north of Olympia. This fishery experiences very large returns of chum salmon that make their way through Dyes Inlet. Bring waders and enjoy the wildlife viewing at this scenic, protected estuary.
Whatcom Creek Bellingham
For anglers north of Seattle, Whatcom Creek in Bellingham, is a viable option. Chum make their way past Lummi Island and into the Bellingham Bay for a shot up the creek-mouth to Bellingham hatchery. The tidewater area near the hatchery is where you can legally cast your lines. This fishery can also be classified as combat fishery, so be patient, give fellow anglers space, and try your best to practice proper fish etiquette amongst the chaos!