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Fly Fishing Alaska for the Mighty Chum Salmon

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Posted by John Perry on
The Chum Salmon, also known as Tiger or Calico Salmon
The Chum Salmon, also known as Tiger or Calico Salmon

The Chum salmon might just as well go down in history as, by far, the most underrated salmon species on the planet. The Chum salmon, or Calico salmon, has had a tough battle with both name recognition and table-fare respect from Alaskans since before the first non-native settlers came into the picture up north. The native Alaskans even considered the salmon species as only worthy for feeding their sled dogs. Just the word "chum" alone draws up pictures of crushed fish parts to many that, having fished the saltwater, used solely to draw the attention of prime eating fish to catch. So yes, an uphill battle for sure with both the name and history of this salmon

Fact is, we cherish these salmon every year as they enter the Alagnak River in mass with two distinct runs. The first run of Chum salmon arrives in early July along with Sockeye and King salmon. Sockeye and King salmon are noted as having the best table fare qualities out of any species of salmon in the world. Well, pretty tough competition for sure. BUT, what Chum salmon do possess that King and Sockeye salmon do not is a ravenous appetite to strike flies or lures as they enter the rivers fresh from the salt. Sockeye salmon do not even hit flies when they come out of the ocean; they are plankton eaters and have no desire to do anything but travel upstream to spawn in a state of mind that is more like a hypnotic trance. King salmon will hit flies and lures, but not near as readily as Chum salmon, and are not near as numerous.

Fly Selection for Chum's

The Chum salmon really like to hit flies of the pink variety due to their time at sea eating shrimp and squid as their primary food source. The pink flies trigger a feeding response to a salmon that is otherwise not eating at all since it entered fresh water. We have found the best patterns to be the Deep Six and the egg hairball leach in bubble gum pink and fuchsia. If the bite from the fish is a little off and less numerous, we will get a little trickier and use an extended hook fly like the famous Dolly Llama fly in pink. This fly will hook even the softest of takes with its trailing hook. These patterns originated from the Steelhead world and have really taken over the market for both trout and salmon fly patterns in Alaska.

The Chum salmon will also hit top water presentations with ravenous strikes at times, or sometimes sipping the top water flies like a trout eating a dry fly. Any way you look at it from an angling point of view, catching any type of fish species on top water is just the crème-de-la-crème! The best patterns for these are the ever so popular deer hair "Hammerhead Wog" pattern, which is a glorified pink mouse pattern, or a pink popper that will hold up to a seasons worth of abuse.

Hammerhead Wog
The Hammerhead Wog is one of my favorite flies to use when fishing for Chum Salmon - © Alaska Fly Fishing Goods

Fishing the Bristol Bay Watershed for Chum Salmon

Once an angler gets hooked on catching Chum Salmon, there is not doubt that all the bad press goes out the window when you have 12 pounds of chrome bright salmon launching cartwheels on the end of your line, screaming drag off the reel as fast as a bonefish, with knuckles getting battered after a days worth of work! Yes, these salmon are awesome game fish, and when our chef prepares the catch in our secret beer battered fried salmon recipe, there is no doubt that the table fare is just the icing on the cake. Even anglers that do not like to eat salmon will usually inhale this appetizer. Again, more thoughts of bad press go out the window and we even freeze and ship them home along with King's, Sockeyes, and Silver salmon!

No matter what you may have heard in the past, Chum salmon are no doubt one of Bristol Bays best kept secrets, and the Alagnak River is no doubt the best with it's shallow wading and huge runs that are in the millions every year! If you decide to battle with the Chum salmon, they run the Alagnak River in 2 distinct runs starting the second week if July and ending the second week of August. They break on average at least 15 to 20 rods per year at Angler's Alibi, so landing them is a battle in itself as they seem to never really tire out. Be prepared with pre-trip arm exercises and the possibility of a cortisone shot once you return home after a week of battling these magnificent salmon!

About the Author: John Perry

Owner: Angler's Alibi Lodge - Alaska

John Perry, originally from Michigan, began his guiding career in Colorado in the early 90's. It was here that he met fellow guide and now lodge manager/head guide TR Rafferty. TR left Colorado to guide in Bristol Bay Alaska, and came back with a summer worth of pictures and stories that that John could not imagine living. Two summers later after teaching fly fishing classes and guiding all over Colorado for trout, a guiding job opened up for John to come up and guide at a new small lodge called Angler's Alibi. It is here that John met the original owner Karl Storath. John worked for Karl through the year 2000. After life had it's changes with marriage and the need for a more year round career, John left Alaska but told Karl that he would love the opportunity to buy it when he was ready to retire. In 2007, John came back to Angler's and the change of leadership began as well. Today John is the owner of Angler's Alibi, and lives in Colorado in the off-season raising 2 boys Grey and River Perry with his wife Holly.

To learn more about Angler's Alibi Lodge visit or email John at

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