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Chum On The Run
By: Dennis Dobson - Oregon Outdoors

While many savvy anglers consider October and November to be primetime for fall chinook on Oregon's north coast, those truly in the know realize they can double their fun by chasing chinook and chum on the run at the same time.

FLY ROD FUN - In the Kilchis' justly famous Second Bridge Hole a very busy angler fights his first chum salmon on a fly rod. Known as great fighters, regardless of the gear or technique used to hook them, anglers commonly prefer to catch them, as here, on 8, 9 and 10-weight fly rods.

Chum salmon, also known as 'dog salmon' begin filtering into Tillamook Bay's Kilchis River with the first heavy rains of autumn. Called dog salmon both for the size of their teeth and because Alaskan's have used their oil-rich meat to feed sled dogs for centuries, chum are both overshadowed by their larger cousins, chinook, and under-appreciated by the general fishing public. Averaging just fifteen pounds, with the occasional twenty-pounder considered a trophy , once experienced chum often hold a place in the hearts of true-blue salmon anglers right next to chinook. Tremendous fighters, chum are known, and appreciated, for their long, strong runs, aerial acrobatics, tail walking and a never-say-die attitude. 

Beginning the second or third week of October the Kilchis will be full of a mixed bag of both chum and chinook salmon. One of the fall salmon season's great joys is drifting the Kilchis and never knowing which fish, a chum or a chinook, will be the next to take your bait.

Incredibly aggressive and running in packs or schools, chum will attack almost literally anything they see. From a simple corky and yarn drift fished in front of them to large plugs and back-bounced salmon eggs or sand shrimp presented from a slowly back-rowed drift-boat, it's pretty much certain that if they can see it, they'll hit it. 

As a professional guide working the Kilchis every Autumn my favorite presentation is fly fishing. Using a ten, eleven or twelve-weight fly rod, a fast-sink tip line and large, gaudy flies, it's not uncommon to play a dozen or more chum every day. And most days will include a few chinook taken on the same gear as well.

The standard fly fishing set up and presentation is very simple. Using either a very fast sink tip line or crimping a small split-shot or two onto a standard fly line just where it is tied to the leader, roll cast or sling the line into the top of a runor drift. As the line drifts downstream take in the slack. Once the line swings below you either play the slack back out slowly, letting the fly bump along at or near the bottom, or simply let it hang in the current. Most of the time, whether it's a chum or a chinook, the bite will come as the fly hangs or swings in the current downstream from the angler. The presentation is just that simple. Fly and leader selection is even simpler.

>GREAT FIGHTERS - Aggressive biters justly famous for not being choosy about what technique is used to hook them, this very nice 18-pound chum salmon buck fell victim to the seductive wiggle of a back-trolled anchovy-wrapped size K-14 Kwik-Fish.

The best leader, especially bearing in mind that chum are your basic non-selective biters and that the chances of a chinook hitting your offering are almost as great as a chum taking it, is four to six feet of either thirty or forty pound test monofilament line. That's it. No fancy tapered leaders, no need for long nine to twelve foot leaders that tangle on every cast, just a simple piece of mono strong enough to hold the fish. 

Probably the most common fly used on the Kilchis for both chinook and chum is a simple one-inch piece of chartreuse yarn. Tie a 2/0, 3/0 or 4/0 hook to the leader with a guide's knot - also known as an egg loop - open the loop and place the yarn inside the loop. Pass the yarn through the loop a second time and cinch the loop back down against the hook. This is both simple and effective. By passing the yarn through the loop twice it won't come loose when casting or while fighting a fish and lies flat against the hook shank looking and acting very natural while drifting. Although most years it is not a requirement, I always use barbless hooks. The chum are a protected species and while we can target them for catch and release from mid-September through mid-November, we can't keep any. Barbless hooks just make it easier to release the fish unharmed. And, as long as you keep a tight line while fighting that chinook that took you by surprise -two of which you can keep daily - you won't lose any more fish than you would with barbed hooks.

Another of my favorite flies for the Kilchis is called a "Great Big Ugly Green Thing". Also called a bunny fly, it is simply a several inch long piece of chartreuse bunny fur tightly wrapped and tied onto a long-shank 2/0 or 3/0 hook. Hot pink, dark orange, bright red and black are also among my favorite colors. Basically though, just about any large brightly colored fly will take both chinook and chum. 

The Kilchis is a small river bordered by dairy pasture on both sides once it drops out of the coast range canyon and therefore offers very little public access in its lower reaches. There is, however, a county park at the lower edge of the canyon and above the pastures that offers both boat and especially bank anglers excellent access. Below the canyon, and just above the privately owned pastures, there is a small public beach at what is known as "The Logging Bridge". This area not only offers a bit of public beach access but contains one of the best holding holes on the entire river as well.

The best water and the most productive stretch of river is from the boat ramp at the Logging Bridge downstream to the ramp just above Highway 101. Unfortunately, this stretch offers no public bank access at all. To fish it you'll need to either bring your own drift-boat or hire a local guide. In the event you do bring your own drift-boat and it's your first time on the river, I strongly recommend you hire a guide for at least the first day. Let him know when you book your trip that you intend to drift the river in your own boat and simply want to learn the runs, where any navigation hazards might be and how to best approach each piece of water. He should be happy to point out these and any other concerns you may have. He should also be willing to show you a few of the "tricks" he uses on this specific river. If he isn't, then you've picked the wrong guide. 

OCTOBER MAGIC - Present in the Kilchis from the first October rains through the middle of November, chum salmon - especially when caught in combination with their larger cousins, chinook (or Kings) - are prized catches. A restrictive waters and catch -and-release only policy helps ensure that chum numbers steadily increase each year. Here Dennis releases a fine hen taken while back-bouncing cured chinook eggs into a favorite chum run.

Although little known except among locals and a few guides the Kilchis is easily reached from Tillamook. Just north of Tillamook turn east on Kilchis River Road from Highway 101. The sign reads Fairview District/Kilchis River/County Park. Approximately a mile along Kilchis River Road bear right at the "Y" just past the Grange Hall. A mile later the Logging Bridge will be on the right. Cross the bridge and turn left into the parking area. This beach is most commonly used by drift and bobber anglers so come prepared with the proper gear. To reach the county park simply continue past the logging bridge another three miles. The road ends at the county park. Bear to the right as you enter the park and you'll see the river on the right. There are obvious trails upstream from the parking area, although this stretch gets so steep that few anglers fish it. From the parking area downstream there is plenty of good water and excellent access. Just be sure to honor any No Trespassing signs you may encounter. The border between the park and the neighboring private lands is, at best, indistinct. Being a small stream and unregulated (no dams) the Kilchis will rise and dirty up more quickly that other local streams when the rains come but it will also drop and clear much quicker than the other, better known, rivers in the area.

If you've already booked a chinook trip in the Tillamook area with a guide mention the Kilchis and ask whether or not it's worth fishing that day. If you've been thinking about a salmon trip to Oregon's north coast this fall, give some thought to the Kilchis. It receives considerably less boating and angling pressure than the area's more famous Trask and Wilson rivers, offers at least as many fish and is an absolute joy to run. During the peak of the season, from late October through mid-November, you'll share the Trask and Wilson rivers with anywhere from twenty to fifty or sixty other boats. During the same time it's an unusual day when you see six other boats on the Kilchis.

So, the next time you consider a salmon trip to Tillamook, remember you can double your pleasure, double your fun by chasing chum on the run.

Copyright 2000 Dennis Dobson, Oregon Outdoors  


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