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Chum Salmon on Swung Flies

Posted on January 11 2011

Bright, fat, strong.  Photo: Cameron Miller
Ed, Mark, late June beauty chum. Photo: Cameron Miller

Brian Niska is one of our guest spey instruction gurus at Alaska West.  He also owns Whistler Fly Fishing.  He put together a couple of great posts for us about the hardest working fish in the river – the chum salmon.

Brian’s teaching spey casting for two weeks at Alaska West this summer.  One of the weeks is sold out but the other still has some space.  Drop us a line to learn how to spey cast from the best in the world, on a river that seems to have been custom-built with two-handed rods in mind.

Anyhow, thanks Brian for a great writeup, and thank you, chum salmon, for being such cool fish.


During the five week long king salmon season at Alaska West, the lodge runs a series of spey improvement weeks, each featuring a guest spey instructor. I am fortunate to be the resident casting help in weeks four and five which take place over the first two weeks in July. During these weeks on the Kanektok we have awesome king salmon fishing and enjoy some of the best trout fishing of the year, however it is the impressive waves of fresh chum salmon that provide the most consistent action.

Early July really is a sweet time to be on the Kanektok as the chum salmon migration overlaps with the more high profile king salmon run.  While every angler wants to connect with a trophy king, the dropping water has these giant salmon running the middle of the river, requiring casts of impressive distance. Typically the chums travel a little closer to shore than the kings, making them an easier target for novice and intermediate casters.

Throughout the first two weeks of July the Kanektok really starts to change each day, as the river drops and the riverside brush starts to really green up as spring gives way to summer. As the season progresses every new tide brings in a smorgasbord of anadromous bounty including chum, sockeye and king salmon as well as sea-run Dolly Varden char.

Stu and dime bright friend.
Stu and dime bright friend.

When most folks think of chum salmon, they think of the toothy green and purple striped fish that are a common sight every October on short coastal rivers from California to Alaska.  It’s true that in most places they are found, chums begin to colour up while still in the salt, making them undesirable to chrome-obsessed speyfishers. Kanektok River chum salmon defy this tiger-striped stereotype, as they arrive in the river fresh from the salt still sporting their oceanic coat of arms. In fact these are some of the brightest chum salmon found anywhere in the world – dime bright gems of electricity, a true prize for the fly angler.

Though the world record sport caught chum salmon was just over 35 pounds, Kanektok chums range in size mostly from 7 to 15 pounds, making them smaller on average than the chums found on the South Coast of BC and rivers of the US Pacific Northwest. Wherever they are found, chum salmon are regarded as strong fighters, and are considered by many to be pound for pound the strongest of the salmon. Kanektok Chums are no different – encounters are usually characterized with aerial acrobatics and dogged runs belying the size of these fish.

Stayed turned for part two on chum salmon, covering techniques and tackle.

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