Chum Salmon Fact Page | Where to Find | Lures | Records | Photos

Spawning chum salmon close-up showing red and black bands evident during maturation and spawning.
Bright red and black bands around a spawning chum salmon.

Chum Salmon Facts

Info | Where to Find? | Lures | Records | Photos

[Page updated: 25 September 2019]

What Ratings Do Chum Salmon Get?

Size: 7/10  Fight: 8/10  Difficulty to Catch: 7/10  Taste: 9/10 – so delicious!

Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) are also known by these names in various countries. USA and CANADA: dog salmon; summer chum; tiger salmon; calico salmon; fall salmon; saber-toothed salmon; keta salmon; and silverbrite salmon. Japan: サケ; Ikura; Saki. Korea: 연어. China: 大麻哈魚. Russia: Кета; Haiko; Keta; Vel; Sil’cha.

Chum salmon are making a big comeback and their numbers are growing – we are probably out of the hole and limits on this fish will increase over the next few years. Recent runs of millions of chum salmon during spawning were very encouraging!

Oncorhynchus keta was first described by Walbaum in 1792. Chum have a wide range and occupy both marine and freshwater habitat at different points in their development.


CHUM SALMON INFO

Chum salmon run up stream to lake in western United States.
Spawning chum salmon change color and head shape dramatically. Here you can see the red and black tiger striping indicative of the species during this time.

APPEARANCE: Adult chum while in their saltwater environment are typically silver from mid-body down, to a whitish underbelly. On the top back dorsal chum salmon have a green or bluish tint which varies in the hue – it can get quite dark or can be lighter. There are black freckles within the coloration. Chum resemble brown trout, with the exception of coloration. As chum prepare to spawn, as in the photo above, there are significant changes in color and morphology. Coloration changes to a tiger type pattern of bands with black and red color.

ADULT LENGTH: Average length for adult chum salmon is less than 3 feet (about 1 meter).

ADULT WEIGHT: Typical weight for adult Chum salmon is between 7 and 16 lbs. (kg) Maximum weight for a chum salmon was 35 lbs. (kg)  for a fish caught in 1995. Salmon world records are here.

RANGE: Chum salmon have a wide range including around midway between north and south California, up to the northwest United States and western Canada, all the way up into Alaska and over to Russia’s north, Japan, and down to Korea. (See range map image below)

HABITAT: For the first year of their lives, chum salmon are living in the freshwater stream or lake they hatched in and trying to grow stronger for their migration to the ocean where they will spend the next 3-7 years before returning back to their same natal streams or lake where they will spawn and die.

DIET: In the first months and year after hatching, young sub-adult salmon feed on insects, worms, and other invertebrates (animals without spinal column). In the ocean as adults, chum salmon feed on smaller fish, mollusks, tunicates, copepods, squid, and worms. Juvenile chum salmon feed on insects, zooplankton, and comb jellies a couple of millimeters in length.

MORE INFO ON CHUM SALMON

Chum salmon are the second largest salmon – with the big ones being called “Chinook” also known as King salmon. Chums have an odd dentition – with some massive canine spawning teeth which show up as the body changes prior to spawning time. Like most other salmon (except Atlantic Salmon) chum salmon die after they spawn the first time.

Chum salmon spawning run in freshwater stream.
Spawning run for chum salmon.

Chum salmon are anadromous – which means their adult habitat is in the ocean, and they migrate upstream through freshwater rivers and streams to spawn. These spawning locations are usually within 62 miles (100 km) of open water ocean. It’s remarkable to think the adults can travel that far to spawn!

Before spawning, chum salmon are nearly identical in appearance to sockeye salmon (and kokanee) and coho salmon. When they spawn, both sexes change dramatically and look like completely different fish. The change is remarkable.

Female salmon eject eggs onto beds built into the stream bed. Males then eject sperm over top of the eggs to fertilize them.

Hatchling chum salmon swimming together.
Hatchling chum salmon have this pattern and lose it as they move into their saltwater environment they’ll call home for the next 4-7 years.

As salmon are born from eggs in the freshwater, they join up in schools and remain in the very shallow water close to the banks to avoid most fish – but unfortunately, that means they are vulnerable to predatory birds. Many young chum salmon are consumed by birds and other predators.

Gills and kidney development is dramatic as young salmon prepare to move from freshwater to the marine (saltwater) environment.

Once young chum salmon move into the oceans, they spend up to seven years in saltwater before moving upstream in freshwater to the location of their hatching – where they spawn and die (semelparity), providing immense amounts of nutrients for predators and other organisms eating decaying flesh in the water. Typical life-span of chum salmon is around four years – the same time they mature, with a maximum lifespan of seven years. Eggs are generally less than one centimeter in length, and oval-shaped. Eggs are somewhat clear with a brown tint.

The salmon spawning runs are immense – with millions of fish spawning each year. This is why there are high limits for taking salmon during this time. No matter how many fish anglers (fish and line) bag, it doesn’t affect the populations to any significant degree.

Conservation of Chum Salmon

Chum salmon are considered ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act. Tracking of historic spawning populations have noted drastic decreases in populations over the years. So much so, that fourteen of sixteen of the tracked populations have now gone extinct in the Columbia River.

Conservation efforts are centered around raising more young to adult ages so they can survive and spawn to create many more young and the population of chum salmon will increase over time.


WHERE TO FIND CHUMS

International map showing chum salmon - Oncorhynchus keta - saltwater range.
Where do chum salmon roam? International chum range shown in dark blue with diagonal lines.

Check the international range map for chum salmon above, click to enlarge.

Chum salmon are found across a more than 7,500-mile range internationally. In the USA, chum salmon are found primarily in the greatest numbers in the northwest off the coasts and in the inland freshwater of Oregon and Washington State.

Critical areas of Chum Salmon spawning which takes place each year in the fall.

The Columbia River is probably the best place to find chum salmon and is frequently cited in studies and by anglers targeting the species.

Where Are Chum Salmon Found?

USA – From the Mackenzie River (arctic) to the southern limit of Tillamook Bay, OR.; San Lorenzo River by Santa Cruz, CA.; Sacramento River, CA. Lagunitas Creek, San Francisco, CA.

Washington State Rivers: Green, Nisqually, Skagit, Skykomish, Snohomish rivers

Canada – British Columbia.

British Columbia Rivers: Chilliwack; Harrison; and Stave, and anything coming off the ocean.

Arctic Ocean – from Laptev Sea to Beaufort Sea.

North Pacific – Korea, Japan, Okhotsk and Bering Seas.


CHUM SALMON LURES

With all of the lures mentioned, vary your colors. While chum salmon may hit one color consistently one day, the next they may have tired of it and want to see something different. Do try color variations because that is often key to hooking up with more dog salmon. Silver is a good base color – and silver with pink, purple, or just about anything else, can work at different times.

Try wrapping your flatter spoons and plugs with a piece of shrimp or smelly oily sardine, as well as bare and see what works. Fishing is always a never-ending process of experimentation. Don’t stop trying!

FIRST STEP – choose the right line: Hi Visibility Power-Pro Braided Line in the 65 lb.

Best Plugs (click to see): Kwik fish K-13, K-15; Flatfish; Wiggle Warts;

TECHNIQUE – try floating jigs/plugs 1-2 feet under the surface of the water. Chums can only look up and sideways, not down. If your chums are all on the bottom – use a drift fishing set up with your main line connected to a 3 line swivel. 1 foot of line leads to the sinker. 2-3 feet of leader leads to your Dick Nite Spoon (click here to see).

Best Spoons (click to see) Dick Nite Spoons

NOTE – Dick Nite Spoons are phenomenal, and highly recommended as a lure you need to have in your box for ALL SALMON. However, the hooks are sometimes bent by big chum salmon anyway. Take the time today to replace the hooks on your Dick Nites for heavier, sharper 2/0 hooks (Gamikatsu here) and you’ll have more hookups for sure.

NOTE – MAGIC JUICE – the one thing you can do to entice more hits on anything artificial you’re dragging through the water is to add some magic juice. There are many kinds, but here is one that works consistently and that we always have in the tackle box “Berkley GULP’s Artificial Sang Shrimp (Scented).”


CHUM RECORDS

There are chum salmon records recorded by states by gender, age, and tackle. We chose to list below the biggest chum salmon ever caught in the world, and then in other areas in the USA.

World Record Chum salmon caught with rod/reel/line occurred on 11 July 1995 at Edye Pass in British Columbia, Canada. Fisherman Todd Johansson caught the biggest chum salmon ever measured.

Washington State, USA Chum Salmon Record – held by Mr. Fred Dockendorf who caught the 25.26 lbs. chum salmon in the Pacific Ocean in Grays Harbor County, Washington State, USA on August 7, 2001.

Oregon, USA State Chum Salmon Record – Mr. Roger Nelson landed a big dog salmon weighing 23 lbs. in 1990.

Alaska, USA State Chum Salmon Record – Mr. George P. Mann caught an 11.22 kg (24 lbs. 12 oz.) dog salmon at Gastineau Channel, Alaska, on July 20, 2001.


PHOTOS

More photos coming – we are constantly updating this page and this website. Hold tight!

CHUM SALMON SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Salmoniformes
Family: Salmonidae
Genus: Oncorhynchus
Species: O. keta – classified by German naturalist and taxonomist Johann Julius Walbaum in 1792.

Full species name: Oncorhynchus keta

Resources – these are some of the resources used in creating this ultimate guide for Chum Salmon, in addition to dozens of studies and videos.

  • http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/fish/chum-salmon.html
  • https://www.fws.gov/fisheries/fishguide/chum_salmon.html