Call me weird, but my kids and I enjoy looking at the fish in the grocery store and making fun of the people who buy it. I catch my own fresh fish on a weekly basis I’ve got a freezer full of only top notch catches: tuna, yellowtail, white seabass, and lingcod. The fish I typically see in the market looks terrible. Cloudy with red eyes, they typically have poor color and texture. Then you read the label to find that they’re farmed fish with color added. Count me out.
I’ve been noticing a lot of fished marked as keta salmon. I’d never heard of keta salmon, so I looked it up. Keta salmon comes from the scientific name of Onchorhyncus keta, also known as chum or dog salmon. You won’t find Alaskans eating chum salmon, but as a sportfish, they’re another story. Learn about keta (or chum) salmon as a gamefish in this article from Orvis.
The chum salmon (Oncorhyncus keta) is familiar to most anglers only because of the unique “tiger-stripe” patterns of red, purple, and black that spawning fish develop along their flanks. Because the species is not known for excellent table quality, its popularity suffers, compared to the more desirable Chinook, sockeye, and coho salmon. But chums are second only to Chinooks in size, readily take flies, and fight by making tackle-burning runs.
Range and Life History
The chum salmon may have once been the most abundant of all the Pacific salmonids, and it still has the widest natural geographic range: it is native on both the North American and Asian continents, and it spawns farther into the Arctic Ocean than do other species. Originally, chums could be found as far south as Monterey, California, but the Golden State hosts only tiny, intermittently spawning populations today. Tillamook Bay, in northern Oregon, is now considered the southern end of the species’ effective range in the U.S., and there are fishable populations along the Washington coast. In Asia, chums can be found from Korea and far northern Japan north into Siberia.
Chums return to their natal waters to spawn after three to six years. Unlike other Pacific salmon, chums usually spawn at the mouths or in lower sections of rivers, with two exceptions—the Yukon River and Russia’s Amur River—where they travel as far as 2,000 miles upstream. The Yukon hosts two distinct runs, known as “summer” and “fall” chums, with the later fish being older, heavier, and traveling farther upstream.
Photos: Orvis (top); Green Polka Dot Box (above)