The swarms of tiny chum salmon usually start showing up along Washington state’s Puget Sound and Hood Canal estuaries and beaches in early March – and they’re a major cutthroat trout food through May.
The tiny salmon are about 1 to 1.5 inches long – 25mm to 35mm in Metric measure – and they’re a rich meal for sea-run cutthroat trout prowling just off the beaches.
In-the-know anglers watch the shallow water just off the rocky beaches – and the mouths of streams – for the tiny salmon, as they spark feeding frenzies of gleaming sea-run cutthroat trout.
The chum migration lasts from early March through late May.
Chum Salmon Life Cycle
Millions of adult chum salmon return to Puget Sound and Hood Canal rivers and streams every fall, and they jam into fresh water to fight for mates, gouge nests into river gravel, spawn and die.
Eight weeks later – during Puget Sound’s rainy winter – tiny chum salmon, called alevins, hatch out of the eggs, but they remain hidden in the gravel for another 10 to 12 weeks.
Then the tiny fish wiggle out from the rocks and immediately swim downstream to begin the long migration to the North Pacific Ocean, where the survivors will eat and grow into massive fish during two to four years in saltwater.
The adults then return to the streams of their birth, and the cycle begins again.
Fishing the Baby Chum Bonanza
Sea-run cutthroat trout ravage the small schools of baby chum salmon. Cutts chase the little fish near the shoreline, especially early and late in the day.
The best time to find feeding cutthroat is when the tides are moving. Flowing water concentrates cutthroat food, and the fish feed best when the water is moving. Slack tide – the period between tidal changes – is usually poor fishing.
Some beaches fish best on a rising tide, others fish best on a dropping tide, while some fish equally well when the tide is rising or falling.
Savvy anglers check out beaches during different tides.
Flies that Imitate Baby Chum
Sea-run cutthroat trout will often lock onto baby chum salmon and ignore other food. This behavior, which anglers call selectivity – is a trait of trout all over the world.
This means anglers must have flies or lures that imitate the size, color and behavior of baby chum salmon.
Fly anglers cast silvery streamers that range from one to three inches long. Cutts can’t resiste Bob Triggs’ Chum Baby fly. Another fly, Ken McLeod’s Skagit Minnow, also works well.
Most fly anglers use a 5- or 6-weight rod with a floating line.
Lures that Imitate Baby Chum
Most Puget Sound sea-run cutthroat anglers use fly rods, but cutts will readily strike lures cast on light spinning tackle.
Small, slivery lures equipped with single hooks work well. All Puget Sound and Hood Canal cutthroat trout must be released, and anglers must use single, barbless hooks.
Small Kastmasters – in sliver and blue or sliver and green – are very effective. Spin anglers also cast small Krocodiles in the same shades.
Hot Fishing for Beautiful Trout
Sea-run cutts are special fish, and Puget Sound is one of the best places on the planet to catch trout in saltwater.
Sea-run cutts range from 10 to 22 inches – and they fight hard. Sea-run cutts are sliver on the sides, with olive backs sprinkled with black spots. The fish have a red or orange slash under their lower jaw, which is how they got their name.
The chum fry migration gets the cutts excited after a long, cold winter. Puget Sound is one of the best places in the world to catch sea-run cutts. Local – and visiting – anglers haunt the beaches from March through May for some of the best fishing of the year.