I was fortunate enough to be able to go after salmon this year on the fly. I had a friend that has talked to me about and wanted me to come with him after chum salmon. This year was the year that it worked out for the both of us and after this trip I think it’ll be a yearly thing.
In Oregon there are only two rivers that you are allowed to target chum salmon on, the Kilchis and the Miami. This is due to the reintroduction effort that was started and continued by the ODFW and OSU’s fisheries department. Once upon a time there were chum salmon accompanying the chinook and coho salmon up the rivers in the fall. Due to a multitude of reasons their populations dwindled to nearly zero. This had impacts on the ecology of the area and the other salmon populations. Salmon are the most efficient way to transfer nutrients in this area from the plentiful ocean back inland. When salmon spawn they die shortly afterwards in the river. This allows scavengers and predators to take the carcasses from the river and pull them in and past the riparian zone of the river to bring nutrients to the rest of the forest. It’s a beautiful cycle that has been going on long before we ever started fishing for them.
Why the chum salmon are important is because of the fact they aren’t great table fare. This allows almost all of them to make up the river and be the main delivery system for the nutrients that the salmon pick up from the ocean without being harvested by anglers. Here in Oregon you can’t keep them even if you wanted to so on top of being a bad salmon to eat they are protected from harvest as well. Because of the protection and the efforts by the ODFW there is a solid population of fish that anglers are allowed to target now for sport, and boy are they fun on a fly rod.
That day started with us heading to the southern chum river, the Kilchis. When we arrived at the spot my buddy had fished before and the water was low, really low. This year in Oregon we had a late and long summer. The first round of rain that we had at the end of the season was in October. It was just enough to cool everything off but only raised the river a negligible amount. We walked through the river maybe 1000-1500’ and saw fishy places but they were either too shallow or there were no signs of salmon. Salmon, once in freshwater, tend to “roll”. Rolling is a term used by anglers to describe surface activity from salmon. They aren’t feeding but they do surface, breach, jump, splash, and disturb the surface of the water. It’s extremely common and a good sign there are fish around. With the Kilches being a bust we decided to head to the lower system to see if the fish were stacked in the deeper tidal influenced waters.
The next spot I was taken to was actually the Miami River. This is the more northern river of the two that you are allowed to target chums on. We headed down to the “secret” spot my friend had fished before. Once we got down there we were met with the same facts as the other river, it’s low. This time because we were in tidal influenced waters I immediately checked my phone for tidal charts. Sure enough we had shown up minutes after low tide. We decided to hike along the river looking for a deep hole since we were already there. Luckily I pushed us to round one more bend, because we found the most perfect salmon hole to exist. It looked fishy, felt fishy, and there were active rolling fish. We decided to park up and give it a go.
The gear we brought were heavy saltwater 8wts, large arbor reels, floating lines designed for nymphing, and leaders made from T-14 and 20-25lb ultragreen. I used my Echo Boost Blue that has served me well on the jetty and for large bass. It did exceptionally well pressuring and handling the fish we caught and hooked, that being said I still plan on upgrading to the EPR or Prime from Echo in the future. For the reel, I couldn’t say the same thing. The reel lasted about half the day. I used an Echo Ion 7/9 reel. It was undergunned to handle chum and the chinook we ran into. The reel was toast by midday and ruined by the end due to the strain these fish can put on a drag system. Next year I’m bringing something with a much more impressive drag system. The line worked and got the job done but it wasn’t ideal. I had an old Airflo bass/muskie line that I had bought maybe seven years ago, give-or-take. The line is the most important part of a set up, typically, so next year with the reel upgrade I plan to get a new line. I want a weight forward line designed for a fast rod with a short sink tip I can add sinking leader material to, so I can increase the depth and speed I fish. I haven’t picked one out yet but I have a year to figure it out. For “tippet” I used straight 20lb ultragreen, Gabe used 25lb. Next year I’m doing 20lb fluorocarbon just to add abrasion resistance and less stretch into the system.
The flies I brought were different from what Gabe brought. Gabe had a more impressive collection than what I had brought. I had a few comets and clousers that I tied up in a rush just days before we went. Gabe had boxes with egg patterns, clousers, pink craft fur darts, and variously weighted versions of all of that. The fly wasn’t super important but they did like green and pink for sure and there was debris all along the bottom so hook point up was important as well. I prefer shorter shank strong wire hooks for these fish so next year’s flies are going to be tyed on either the Ahrex 210 or 280 in a 1/0 or 2/0 size. They are very similar and if you look at the data sheets for the hooks on the Ahrex website the only major difference is the 210 is slightly longer than the 280 in the same size. Small or extra small lead eyes worked great on keeling the fly and letting it ride hook point up and getting it into the strike zone. You don’t need a lot of weight because we are using leaders we made out of bulk T-14.
Speaking of the strike zone. The fish took the flies in various ways. Only one fish was foul hooked out of the 10-15 fish we landed that day. The rest were hooked in the mouth and sometimes they would really choke the fly. These fish eat and chase flies like you wouldn’t believe. Sometimes as you stripped the fly back it was a full on grab, sometimes it felt like you hooked the bottom, sometimes you could feel them suck it in. From what I can tell by their attitude, they are mad the fly is there and they want it dead. I was able to land 6-8 chum salmon and Gabe I think landed at least two. I was able to hook four chinook and land two of them. The fist chinook I landed was foul hooked, unfortunate but it happens in salmon fishing especially when they are stacked up in a pool. The next two chinook bested me and they were absolutely gargantuan. I felt like a 9wt would’ve been too light. The reel getting blown up on the second chinook didn’t help my efforts either. The last fish of the day was a massive darkening chinook. It was a beautiful fish and I was thrilled to have landed it and got to hold such an impressive fish. The chum weren’t bad either. We only had hens for the first few we landed then came the bucks. The male fish have these crazy teeth and the weird kype that really shows up more and more the longer they’re in freshwater. When fighting the fish they feel almost electric. There is this hum in the rod that feels like you’re hooked to a battery, it’s an unreal feeling.
The fishing was fun for sure. Lots of action and lots of slow moments. The tides rose as we fished which we believe brought in new fish to the pool we were fishing. The low water at the beginning only allowed a third of the river to be holding water. This corralled the fish into a bucket where we did most of the fishing. We would go through spurts where either Gabe or myself would get into a mess of fish. Gabe went five-for-five on casts to grabs and finally stuck and landed one. Same thing happened to me as well. Then it would go dead with a fish rolling here or there. The four chinook that we didn’t land were huge and they beat us up. Gabe hooked one that took off like a rocket and then came quickly unpinned. I had one that did the same and it even jumped out of the water. I had him on for a minute until he broke me off. I had another get tied up in some timber and I had to break him off as well. When you hook some of those big fish there is really nothing you can do. The fish decides when it’s done and where it’s going. They are truly in charge. By high tide we were pushed way off the bucket we had found and there was plenty of water for the fish to move so they spread out and fishing slowed to zero after the final chinook. Also I wouldn’t focus too much on where we went for salmon. Most of the coastal rivers in Oregon have salmon in them. Coho chase flies too. The goal is to get the fly in their face and get it out of their face. If they don’t eat it as soon as it’s there they will when it tries to get away.
The day ended at high tide and with us hiking out, changing clothes, getting some food and gas, and accidently going to Portland during rush hour the same night the Blazers were playing. Portland was not part of the plan, but we got turned around on some side streets and all of a sudden we rounded a corner, and there it was, Portland and its traffic. It added a couple hours to our drive, but it wasn’t all bad. The company was good and Oregonians are nice so it worked out well.
It was a long 16+ hour day but totally worth it. I would recommend anyone to try some new fishing if they ever get the chance. Every method has its own quirks that can help you in your other fish endeavors. Fishing at night on the jetty has significantly improved my casting, casting leaders made with T-14 and lead eyed flies on the end has made me a more thoughtful caster, stillwater fishing has had me understand weight and depth way better, and so on. So get out there and try something new, who knows maybe it will become a tradition for you like salmon did for me.
As always comment, message me, or shoot me an email if you have any questions, comments or thoughts on any of this.