All five of the Pacific salmon have a common name, and a really common name. Chinook salmon are also called kings. Coho are also called silvers. Sockeye are reds. Pink salmon are also called humpies. Alas, the poor chum salmon, whose common name conjures up images of ground-up fish gruel used to attract sharks, are also known as dog salmon. This name stems from the practice of using chum salmon as dog food… so in at least one respect, both of these monikers end up more or less in the same linguistic place – ground-up fish gruel… one for attracting sharks, the other for feeding sled dogs.
Chums get no respect.
In many places in Alaska, the run of pinks and chums more or less coincide with each other. These runs also coincide with the silver salmon run, and often people will be actively fishing for silvers, but catching pinks and chums. Most people don’t keep the pinks – by the time they reach fresh water, their flesh is quickly deteriorating in quality, and since people prefer the silvers, they toss the pinks back. Almost nobody keeps chums. Chums are for dog food. Nobody eats dog food.
Yesterday we were fishing (for silvers) and catching a lot of chums. They may not be the choice for the table, but I tell you what, they sure are strong. They’re not jumpers, they’re pullers. Pullers and head-shakers. They’re aggressive and take lures readily. They can get quite large. They’re colorful. The lure of choice is typically a Pixie or a Vibrax, and this is exactly the lure you’d be using for fishing for silvers. Unfortunately, chums are so strong that they often straighten the hooks on the lures! So when you’re fishing for silvers and hook a chum, you often experience the double-disappointment of catching an undesirable fish and having to retire your favorite lure, because the hooks are ruined!
When I was fishing this weekend, I had a couple of guests with me from the East Coast. Neither had ever caught a salmon before. The silvers were being elusive, but the chums cooperated, and both of my friends landed hard-fighting chums. It is an experience I am sure they won’t forget.
After my friends left, the rest of our fishing party started to discuss how chums really need another name… something that doesn’t conjure images of ground-up fish gruel. The commercial fish people have done just that, and when you see chums in the supermarket, you’ll see them under the name “silverbrite” salmon. Seems a little misleading, doesn’t it?
In the spirit of full disclosure, until yesterday, I had been disparaging the chums myself, by grouping them together with pinks, and calling them “humpies and chumpies”. But I am past all that – I have seen the error of my ways, and now I have a new-found respect for them. I may not want to catch them and take them home and cook them… but as fighters, they’re top notch.
So, we narrowed down our new name for chums to two choices. Which do you prefer?
Alaskan River Marlins or Tiger Tuna?