KODIAK — We’re well into July, so it’s time to get serious about putting pink salmon on your line.
As with our red and king salmon, the run seems to be starting slowly compared to years past. But there is an additional factor with pinks.
For whatever reason, odd-numbered years produce strong runs while even-numbered years such as this produce weaker runs.
It’s hard for me to tell right now if the run is even weaker than expected or late.
There aren’t huge numbers of pinks on the road system yet, but I don’t really expect that until late in the month and into August, so it’s time to get serious.
As a matter of fact I prefer the early season fishing with fewer fish to that of the later season with hordes everywhere.
The fishing is more challenging and interesting to me for one thing, but I also prefer the early fish for eating.
Anyone can catch the late pinks, they are so numerous and willing.
But in the early part of the run I have to hunt for them and sometimes work to catch them.
Let’s start from the beginning with the biggest difference between early and late.
Early pinks are still actively feeding while for the most part the later huge schools aren’t feeding, especially in or near the river mouths.
As a result the early fish are more scattered and you have to pay attention to what they’re eating if you want to score consistently.
In truth it’s fairly simple, at least if you’ve been fishing for sea run Dolly Varden.
Pink salmon are looking for the same varieties of food, and they’re often found mingled with the Dollies in the same places.
If you’re not catching a few Dollies, your odds of connecting with pinks go way down. They’re feeding on the same foods in the same places.
I measure the status of the pink salmon run at any moment by comparing the numbers of Dollies I’m catching to the number of pinks.
My earliest encounter with pinks comes out something like one pink for every 20 Dollies. If my Dolly catch is down, my odds for pinks goes right down too.
In fairly fast progression after catching the first pink or two, they being to dominate my catch. Over the span of a couple of weeks it’s somewhere up around 15 pinks for 5 Dollies.
But before that time I begin to see the bigger schools of pinks accumulating at the river mouths and I can switch entirely to pinks if I want.
But that comes at a price.
The pinks holding at the river mouths quickly lose their silvery sheen in favor of their dark spawning colors and development of the distinctive hump on the backs of the males.
Not only do their eating qualities go down, but also their fighting abilities.
Sure I can catch lots of them. But do I really want to?
So I pretty much avoid the big schools at the river mouths in favor of the bright fish still feeding further away.
Fortunately at that point their numbers are high away from the river mouths. I can still catch lots and have more fun doing it away from the crowds.
The trick is finding them. And especially on the incoming tide that’s fairly easy.
Just watch for jumping pink salmon or “jumpers” as they’re called locally. If you see one pink salmon jump, the odds are pretty good that you’ll find lots more in the area.
But let’s catch some now!
Early in the season like this and even away from the big schools at the river mouths, you’re well advised to throw lures or flies that resemble their food items. Sure they’ll take the brightly colored spoons and flies that work so well on the big schools, but in my experience food is still king for pinks cruising the shoreline.
With spinning tackle, that translates into small spoons in “natural” colors.
For some reason pinks everywhere are much more susceptible to spoons than spinners.
My favorites are Crocodiles in the 1/8- to 3/8-ounce size range. Pinks generally prefer smaller spoons, and that range covers a wide range of wind and casting distances.
I arrive on the shore at or just after low tide and usually start with a plain silver spoon. If that’s not producing when I know the fish are present, I start experimenting with a little added color.
On sunny days I generally have better luck with blue and silver, though some days green and silver will top that.
On overcast days I switch to plain gold or gold and green.
But truth be known, I have better luck on flies, whether fished on a 3’ leader behind a clear casting bubble on a spinning rod or with a fly rod.
The pinks just seem to like streamer flies better than spoons.
My preferred colors are chartreuse-and-white for general use, but on bright days blue-and-white often work better.
But it also pays to keep some olive-and-white on hand to try on those sunny days. Especially when schools of needlefish are near shore, the switch to olive often pays a big bonus.
In all those color combos I prefer streamers with a little weight to them. The best in my book is a Clauser Deep Minnow for its little metal eyes up front. They add just the right amount of weight to get the fly a little deeper.
You can add a small split shot to the leader above a fly when using the spinning rod, but I wouldn’t do it with a fly rod. It’s too easy to sink the fly too deeply below the surface with a fly rod. For that reason floating fly lines get the nod along with leaders no more than about 7’ long.
Here’s the real advantage of using flies, whether on spinning rods or fly rods.
Pink salmon eat more than small fish. They make their living eating a lot of shrimp and krill along with a few other invertebrates.
Though you won’t find much in the way of shrimp or krill close to shore, but the pink salmon can’t seem to turn them down.
You won’t find any spinning lures that do a good job of imitating them, however. You have to resort to flies. Pink shrimp fly patterns abound, and they can often save the day when the pinks don’t show much interest in streamer flies.
But what about those other invertebrates I mentioned?
The list of possibilities is long, but flies that resemble small white squid can have their days.
The real winner though, is a fly resembling a small pink or orange worm.
Pink salmon love them!
Whether using spoons or flies, remember this about pink salmon.
They mostly prefer slower retrieves. Move your spoon or fly too fast, and you’ll cut way into your catch.
Heck, I’ve had very good luck with no retrieve at all when using flies. Just cast well in front of moving fish so the fly has time to sink to their depth and wait for action. The little bit of motion provided by chop on the water is all it takes to provide the action needed to interest a pink salmon.
The final point to remember is the small average size of pink salmon. Sure you can catch them on any rod, but they come into their own on light “trout” tackle.
My favorite spinning rods are no longer than about 7’ and rated for line no heavier than about 8#. In fly rods that means rods on the order of 5-weights or even lighter.
If you can imagine fishing for trout averaging over 3# and sometimes pushing 10#, that tells you how much fun it is to use light tackle for pink salmon.
I’m ready for a nice day on a beach chasing pink salmon.
Doesn’t that sound pretty good to you, too?