Chum Salmon

AKA: calico salmon, dog salmon, fall salmon, autumn salmon, chum, keta;
French: saumon keta; Japanese: sake, shake.

Average lifespan in the wild: 2 to 5 years

Size: Up to 38.5 in (98.7 cm)

Average Weight: 7 to 14 lbs(3.2 to 6.4 kg), World Record: 35 lbs

Did you know? Chum salmon head straight for the ocean after leaving the gravel nest.

Their scientic name is Oncorhynchus keta.

Chum salmon are very abundant among the salmon species, however they are not targeted much by sport fisherman except when they come back close to the river after the other species of salmon have spawned. Chum are generally seen as a hard fighting salmon for its size. Sometimes while fishing Chinook, people think they have a good size Chinook on and reel in a Chum much smaller than what they anticipated.

Chum travel in large schools when getting close to the river and can make some great fishing for sportsman. They usually spawn in 3-5 years and spawn around November. They are the last of the salmon to spawn. There is a large commercial fishery for Chum around the river mouths to get their roe. Chum salmon don’t taste quite as good as other salmon, however, their roe is seen as quite a delicacy and is sold mostly to Japan for caviar.

Due to the fact that chum salmon have late spawning runs, they are not considered a very popular sportfish. They are usually caught accidentally by fishermen angling for other Pacific salmon. In Alaska it serves as an important source of fresh and dried meat for consumption. In other places it is not a desirable food, as compared to other Pacific salmon. It’s popular name, dog salmon, comes from the fact that Native Americans use it commonly as dog food.

A chum’s meat is white, pink or yellowish and does not have a very high fat content. It is sold fresh, frozen, dried, salted, smoked or canned. It had been commercially raised in Russia and used as dog food in Canada. Japan and Northern Europe have increased their demand for fresh and frozen chum.


Chum are slender and compressed in their ocean-dwelling phase, and are a greenish blue metallic color on their back, silvery on the sides and black speckled on their upper sides and back.

chum_tail-smallIt is difficult to distinguish chum from sockeye and coho, which are similar in size. Chum differ in that they have a distinct gill raker pattern: they have fewer but larger ones than other salmon.


Chum range between 4 and 30 pounds, but average between 10 and 15 pounds, with females typically being smaller. They can reach 40 inches. The sport fishing record was a 35 pound fish caught in British Columbia. They can live up to seven years.


Chum have the greatest range of all Pacific salmon. They are indigenous to the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, Bering Sea, Sea of Japan and Okhotsk Sea. To the south, they are found to the Sacramento River in California and down to Kyushu in the Sea of Japan. In the north, they are distributed from the Arctic Ocean to the Mackenzie River in Canada. To the west, it ranges to the Lena River in Siberia. Even though the Chum’s range is great, they are mostly in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Chum salmon head to the estuaries(where the river meets the ocean) before heading out to sea.

Life cycle and typical behaviors:

Chum are anadromous and can live in both salt and fresh water. There are a few landlocked freshwater populations.

Chum are sexually mature right as they enter streams, and so stay in freshwater for a much shorter time than other Pacific salmon (with the exception of pinks). They typically stay for two or three weeks. Their young do not migrate to sea as quickly as pink salmon. They migrate to saltwater estuaries in schools, and stay close to shore until fall when they move out into open water. Chum and pink salmon hybridize easily.


Spawning occurs when the chum reaches between two and seven years old, with an average age of four. At this point they weigh between five and ten pounds. They have been called autumn or fall salmon due to the fact that they spawn later than most salmon. They enter rivers after mid-June, but end up reaching their spawning area in November or December. At times, there are runs that go in summer and another in fall in the same river. Summer runs contain smaller fish that are less prone to swim as far upstream. Despite this, some runs have been known to go 2,000 miles. Chum and pink salmon spawn in a lot of the same areas; usually small streams and intertidal zones. Chum salmon like a medium water flow on shallow medium sized gravel to spawn. The female typically lays between 2,400 and 3,100 eggs in their nests (redds). All chum die shortly after spawning.

Males in the spawning phase turn olive green or gray; on the sides, they are red with vertical green or purple stripes; from this it gets its nickname “calico salmon” It develops the hooked snout, common to all Pacific salmon. Males in the spawning phase develop big teeth. Females in the spawning stage look very similar to males, except less vivid, and have a dark line along the lateral sides. Juvenile chum are slender and have between 6 and 14 parr marks.

Eating habits:

Young chum feed on plankton and insects. Ocean-dwelling chum eat herring, pilchard, sand lance, squid and crustaceans. Adults stop eating once they reach fresh water.