It seems to me every fly fishing area has some sort of underated or perhaps overlooked species of fish. Whether right or wrong these fish are just overshadowed by other species or just misunderstood. That fish in Alaska is the Chum Salmon, AKA Dog salmon. Quite simply the most underated fish I have ever fished for. Like all salmon, chum salmon turn into their spawning colors and in doing so lose table and fighting quality. However, chum salmon turn color quicker than any other salmon i know, almost the minute they hit freshwater. So, most people catch them far from their “prime time” and make assumtions. Little do many folks know the battles that can ensue when hooking a chrome dog in the ocean especially on the fly.
It’s 7:00 am and I arrive at a local river mouth with chum salmon on the brain. It’s 15 minutes till low tide, perfect timing for my favorite technique. I begin to wade around starting at low tide, it’s basically flats fishing – alaska style. I rig up my 8 weight fly rod and put on my favorite chum salmon fly, a relatively small and sparse clouser minnow with bead chain eyes. The bead chain is key because chrome Kodiak Island chums almost always hit the fly on the sink, so it’s got to sink slow. Constantly looking around i don’t see much in terms of jumping or tailing salmon. It seems like the sockeye, pinks and the chums are later than normal. Far from discouraged I begin to flog the waters for about an hour with nothing to show. Then a break, about 85 feet out a fish jumps. A big fish that lands on it’s side with the low long jump, the signature leap of a chum salmon! I launch a 90 foot cast about 30 feet in front of the direction of the jumping salmon and let the fly drop. About 5 seconds pass until my line goes taught. Not a bone jarring slam but enough to know that something with decent sized fins has hit my offering. I set the hook firmly and almost immediately an 18 pound figure launches out of the water again and again and again. After those 3 spectacular leaps the fish peels off a non stop 120 yard run. My heart is racing, nothing to me in the state of Alaska whether it be any other salmon species, trout or steelhead fights as hard as a chrome dog on the flats. After the long run 3 more jumps and then another decent run. By now the fish is around 170 yards from me and I am doing my best to keep the fly line taught. I slowly work the fish in little by little. It seems every time I gather 20 yards of fly line, the fish makes another 21 yard run. Finally around 30 minutes after I set the hook, I beach a nice buck that’s so chrome the tiger stripes have yet to show on it’s side. It was a battle that every fly fisherman should experience and although there were no other fisherman around I hope in the future more will be out and begin to understand just how great of a gamefish a chum salmon can be!