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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 & 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, & that it is underfished by sportfishermen.   This is probably because some sport fishermen think Chum were raised mainly for the commercial netters & 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.  

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, & 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 & 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 & narrow  section & they can not stray, plus they are heading south to the hatcheries & home.  The main  concentration of fish will be encountered south of Ayock Point & in Annas Bay at the "Great Bend" & near the hatcheries, to the mouth of the Tahuya River.  The Hood Canal Hatchery is right off hiway 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 & 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 & 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 & or yarn just like they would for steelhead.  You could also use a spinner, fished the same way.  

(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.

For those of you who have to use a downrigger, the word is to use a green or chartreuse squid 40" behind a green flasher.

(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 & 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 & try that location again.  Watch the surface for jumping & 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 & 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 & operated by them.  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 fee.  Restrooms &
      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 hiway, 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.


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 & understand it's boundaries.  I have tried to interpret these closure regulations at this hatchery, & have trouble understanding it.   I asked a fish checker there & 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 & 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 & 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 newby to this type of fishing, it is interesting to walk out past the ponds at the hatchery & just stand there on the catwalks & get an education.

Another spot is in the Skokomish River east of Hiway 101.   Many fishermen here will drift eggs or yarn & 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 & 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 & 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 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 & 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.

Hoodsport hatchery phone 360-877-5222

Copyright 2004-2006 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

Originated 8-15-04, Last updated 1-06-2006                                            
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