Chum Fishing Techniques

It’s time for a Dog Fight – Fishing for Chums

by Travis Milward and Terry Wiest

In this article Travis Milward and Terry Wiest will show you the most effective techniques from both boat and bank fishing for the toughest fish of the West, THE CHUM SALMON. Chums also known as Dog Salmon enter rivers around the middle of October and are in peak season through November and even into December. Too many rivers in Washington get a decent run of chum to list, but some of our favorite and more productive are the Skagit, Skykomish, Snohomish, Nisqually and Green Rivers (King County). So let’s gear up and go get em!

BOAT FISHING CHUM: By Travis Milward

Back Trolling-Anchoring
This is the #1 technique from the boat for Chum

Gear Needed:

First of all you are going to want to buy something reliable and suited for the technique you are using. For this particular style I like to use a 7ft 9in rod rated for 15 to 30lb test. This rod features a strong butt section and a fast tip, ideal for pulling and trolling plugs. Manufactures like G.Loomis, Lamiglas, St. Croix and Redington all make a quality whoopin’ stick that will suite your trolling needs nicely.

Something that you’ll also want to invest in is a quality reel. Features that I like to look for are line capacity. For example, something that can hold a decent amount of 20-25lb test. A sturdy drag reel that can withstand a year or two worth of abuse from even the toughest of fish. And another key feature that I have been using for the past two seasons is a built in line counter which allows you to meticulously place your plugs or bait exactly where you want them. A few reels to check out are the Daiwa Sealine, Shimano Tekota, Quantum Cabo, and the Okuma Catalina. When it comes to spooling up my reels for the upcoming salmon seasons I go with Hi Vis Power Pro Braided Line in the 65lb test which has a diameter of 15lb mono. The benefit of using braid over mono is less stretch, meaning more hook ups on first take downs. Another nice feature is the strength you get for the diameter of the line.


First things first… to all of my plug lines I add a 5 to 6 ft section of 30 to 40 lb mono which will help absorb some of those earthquake sized hits you get. Another thing I do is rig all of my lines with a slider, bead and barrel swivel. This allows you to easily switch between flat lining your plugs to diver and plugs or bait.

My go to plugs for back trolling or anchoring for chum are the Kwik fish K-13 and K-15 size. Other plugs that I like to use are flatfish and wiggle warts. Some of my favorite colors are chrome with pink, chartreuse, purple and even blue. Don’t be afraid to try some different stuff on chum as they are super aggressive and different colors sometimes produce outstanding results. For all my banana shape plugs like Kwik fish and flat fish I add a piece of sardine, prawn or sand shrimp that I wrap on the underneath side of the plug which gives an added scent factor that makes the difference for more hook ups.


First of all no matter what you are using or how you are using it you need to be able to locate fish and where they are traveling. This means reading water. What I look for is a good slot or current seem with moderate to faster current. Chums generally enter the river in great numbers and tend to spawn in the slower water. That’s why I like to focus my attention on fresh chrome fish which are generally found in faster water with more oxygen. Once you have located a good run where fish are present get your drift boat or sled to the top of the run or hole. Making sure to get in position and hold steady as you and your counterparts in the boat let your lines out to the desired length. In my boat it varies between 60-120 feet. The shorter the run the less I’ll let them out as well as the deeper the run the more line I let out for better diving.

Once your plugs are out you can do two things. One, drop your anchor and sit on fish as they hopefully travel up the seam or slot to you, which can be very effective when fish are on the move and are present in good numbers. Or two, what I more commonly do is let me boat slip down river at ½ to ¼ the speed of the current, this allows your plugs to find and hunt for fish pushing them to their brink point. SMASHING YOUR PLUGS!

Also if fishing water deeper than your plug will allow add a size 20 or 30 jet diver that will get your offering to the bottom where it belongs!

Another key point with anchoring or back trolling is to sit all your rods in holders. This is because most people are impatient and want to hold the rod. In my boat I prefer everyone to leave their rod in the holder till its doubled over with a fish taking line out!

The Edge:

Don’t get discouraged with this technique. Fish hard and stay on the run from the head to the tail. Sometimes fish will be in the last few feet of the tail out where you are getting lazy on the oars or motor because you haven’t hooked anything yet. Don’t lose your edge. Stay positive, stick it out and you will be rewarded handsomely with limits of fresh chum.

Forget these and forget it!

n Always sharpen your hooks, keep them sticky sharp to ensure you are going to get that keeper
n If it looks fishy fish it!
n Wrap your banana shaped plugs with bait
n Make sure your plug is tuned and running true
n Stay confident
Read all articles related to this on Steelhead U! It will make you a better angler

BANK FISHING for CHUM: By Terry Wiest

Ah, November is here, the weather is turning, still plenty of coho and chinook in the rivers, but I’m not quite ready for steelhead. So what do I do? I go lookin for a Dog Fight!

Oh yeah… this is the time of year where I can anticipate my arms are going to get sore from fighting so many of these ornery, nasty, tough, no quit fish. I’m not in it for the meat, I’m in it for the fight. I can honestly say I have not tried chum for table fare, but then again I don’t intend to. The word is they’re OK smoked when from the salt or title water, but I like to fish higher in the rivers where they’ve already started to turn color and they’re just plain ugly. But isn’t it always the ugly one’s that put up the best fight? Follow the techniques below and be prepared to hold on.

Where to find them:

Chum will usually hold in deeper slots, but you’ll find them in rocky flats too! The best thing to do is either go with someone that has a proven chum hole, or start walking the river in search of rolling chum. When they’re there, they’ll make there presence known… they are not shy. More than likely all you have to do is look for a crowd and you’ll know where they are.

Drift Fishing:

Danny Clyde with a nasty chumFor drift fishing, you’ll want to use the same setup as for steelhead, except beefed up a little. I like a fight so I don’t go overboard. I’d recommend a 8 1/2 or 9ft Medium rod rated for 8 – 12lb or maybe 17lbs. I personally use a G. Loomis 1025c paired with a Penn International 955 with 15lb mainline and 15lb leader. Whatever you do, make sure the reel you use has an excellent drag system, not a good one, an “excellent” one. A chum headed downstream with the current can spool you lickety split!

From your main line, tie a swivel. Attached enough pencil lead to the swivel (or any weight system of your choice), so the presentation ticks the bottom every so often but doesn’t drag. Next is a 3ft to 4ft leader to a corky and yarn setup. I use a 1/0 Gami or Owner hook. The preferred color is chartreuse, both the corky and the yarn.

Spoon Fishing:

This method is lethal and the action can be non stop. Using a small wobble style spoon will get those doggies mad and they’ll hammer your spoon. Dick Nites are my favorite spoon, not only for chum but for all species of salmon.

Because of the lighter weight of the presentation, I’ll use a longer rod in a spinning model for better casting control. This year I’m going with the new G. Loomis Steelhead Series STR1163S 9′ 8″ rated 8 – 12 and couple it with a Shimano Stradic 2500. Again, a reel with an “excellent” drag system is must. It’ll be loaded with either 15lb mono or 20lb braid.

A common way of rigging the spoon is to attach a three way swivel to the mainline and attach a 6″ to 10″ dropper of equal or higher weight test to the bottom of the swivel. Depending on current speed and depth choose just enough weight so it ticks the bottom every once in a while. On the business end of the swivel attach from 4 to as much as 8 feet of leader, to which the lure will be tied. As in all river fishing, leader length is entirely dependent on water clarity and should be matched accordingly. For a typical days fishing with 5 to 6 foot of river visibility I’ll run 6 feet of 15lb Maxima Ultragreen leader from the swivel to the lure.

Typical Driftfishing Setup

One note when fishing Dick Nites for chums, bring some extra siwash hooks. It’s very common when fighting one of these bad boys that your hook will end up bent. Be prepared to either change out the lure, or do a quick hook swap. Get good quality hooks and you’ll be much happier.

Float and Jig:

Ron Harrington ready to release a ChumOK, OK… I’ve heard it too! Both of the above mentioned techniques will “floss” fish. Yes, this is true. Not ALL the fish will be flossed as I’ve seen chum hit both corkies/yarn and the spoons. It’s actually very cool to watch in ultra clear water with polarized lenses. But I have to agree a certain percentage of the fish will be flossed.

So, out comes the float and jig. No doubt here when a chum strikes, it’s a strike. I’ll actually use the same rod/reel setup above for spoon fishing, but make sure the main line is braid so it floats on the water. I always carry spare spools with me of both mono and braid.

Try and fish the slower waters here and have your presentation in the middle of the water column. I’ve had more luck in the middle than either the top or the bottom of the column.

Now we’ve all heard how a steelhead can straighten out a jig hook. These are chums baby and they WILL straighten out a cheap hook. If you’re going to use jigs only use high quality jig hooks, either Owner or Gami’s. I had some tied up special for me that are 2/0 hooks rather than the standard #1 or 1/0 that I usually use. Just a little more metal.

Best jig colors are chartreuse, cerise, or purple. This is the only time I will actually put bait on a jig. If they’re finicky and not readily taking your presentation, add a little prawn meat to the jig, it’s like giving a dog a bone!