Masses of pink salmon may not crowd river mouths just yet. But their numbers along beaches have grown so much it’s time to get serious about fishing.
In fact it’s a good thing the river mouths won’t clog with them for another few weeks.
While it’s a treat to see great masses of pink salmon undulating with the currents, it’s just about impossible to avoid snagging them with every cast. You may hook lots of fish, but that’s not fishing.
On top of that, a high percentage of those fish will be darkening with spawning colors, or “water marked” as they’re known locally.
The pink salmon you catch right now are still prime ocean fish, silvery bright and at their best on the end of your line and on the table.
It’s certainly worthwhile locating concentrations of pinks for better fishing, but you don’t have to stick to the river mouths to find them.
I like to move away from the rivers and locate pinks that are still actively feeding.
Fortunately for anglers, pink salmon in particular like to jump. You can zero in on concentrations simply by watching for “jumpers.” Their silver forms and splashes can be seen from surprising distances.
Park your car somewhere along the shoreline and watch for jumpers. If you don’t see any at the moment, move on and watch another spot for a few minutes.
Once you spot fish, it’s a matter of walking to them or waiting for them to come to you. They swim along the shoreline in loose schools, and if you’re in front of them rather than behind, they’ll come to you shortly.
A tide book is perhaps the most useful single thing you can take pink salmon fishing. Pink salmon are strongly affected by tides.
As the tide rises they come close to shore and feed wildly. But once the tide peaks and starts to fall, the pink salmon seem to disappear. They move offshore, stop feeding and stop jumping for the most part.
I time my fishing trips to arrive on the water at low tide, then adjust my location depending on where I spot the fish. A little experience on the water will show that some locations are better in the first hour or two of a rising tide, while others are better later in the tide.
After a few trips you’ll learn where to be at each stage of the tide, moving from one to the next as the tide rises progressively higher.
If there’s one constant to catching pink salmon, it’s speed. Pink salmon simply won’t pursue fast moving prey or lures. They like things slow, and often the slower the better.
They can also be particular about size. My rule of thumb covers both. If I’m seeing fish but not drawing strikes I slow my retrieves and move to smaller and smaller offerings.
Color can be a factor two, but it’s down the list from speed and size. If a slower retrieve with smaller offerings isn’t producing as well as I like, I then start to experiment with color.
These days actively feeding pinks will continue hitting lures or flies that resemble their food of choice, they’re growing more interested in wild florescent colors. Red, pink, chartreuse, green, yellow, orange and more may be productive.
It’s a matter of carrying an array of sizes and colors of offerings, then sorting through them once you find the fish. Pinks are very cooperative when you find the right combo, so make frequent changes until you find which is working best at the moment.
For some reason I’ve never understood, pinks vastly prefer spoons to spinners. I carry larger spoons for long casts when the fish are far from shore, but most of mine are small.
A ½-ounce spoon is my heaviest, but most are less than ¼ ounce. Little 1/8-ounce models dominate my lure boxes.
While many anglers use Pixie spoons, I vastly prefer Krocodiles. Pixies have to be moved fairly quickly, both to make them work and to keep them from snagging bottom in the shallows pink salmon prefer.
Krocodiles can be moved lots slower, and as a result always seem to catch more pink salmon for me. At the same time they’re slimmer, so they cast further than Pixies.
Flies are my first choice for pink salmon because they can be moved even slower than spoons. You can stop a retrieve entirely and they sink very slowly to the bottom. In fact that’s a very effective ploy when pinks are reluctant to hit.
Streamer flies no more than 2 inches long are my favorites, but as with spoons, smaller is often better. I carry them in sizes down to less than an inch long. Hook sizes range from #4 down to #10.
Flies open another door to productive pink salmon fishing. They absolutely love shrimp and krill, but you can only imitate those with flies. Pink is my favorite color of shrimp fly, but I’ve done well on white and chartreuse versions as well.
If you don’t fly fish, fear not.
Using a spinning rod with a casting bubble and fly can be even more effective than a fly rod at times! You can adjust your leader length so the fly can’t touch bottom, then slowly creep it along just off bottom with long pauses for incredible results.
As long as I have you thinking about spinning rods with bobbers, I’ll add another possibility to your arsenal.
Pick up some very light marabou jigs in an array of colors. If I had to choose only one lure to tie on the end of a spinning line, it would be a marabou jig below a bobber.
They’re great any time, but at their level best when there’s a little chop on the water. Cast to the fish and do nothing else. Let the little waves bounce the bobber up and down and the jig with it. Pinks can’t seem to resist a jig bobbing up and down in the water with that soft marabou feather waving enticingly.
You’ll hear lots of people disparaging the quality of pink salmon flesh.
I take it as a sign they’re catching darker fish in river mouths, not taking good care of the fish, or not cooking it right. The flesh is certainly different than other salmon. It’s milder and soft, even delicate.
In fact, when you catch silvery bright pink salmon, take care of them and cook them right, they’re as good as the best trout you’ve ever eaten.
The secrets to good cooking are to be gentle with the spices and avoid overcooking. Our favorite spice for pink salmon is lemon pepper, but often we lay sliced onions and lemons on top of fillets, then bake them with a cover.
If you’re smoking pink salmon, be especially careful. It’s easy to use too much brine or smoke. I generally brine them for only half an hour. In a hot smoker like a Little Chief I use only a single pan of wood chips, then allow them to continue cooking for 6 to 8 hours with no smoke.
When you first remove them from the smoker they’ll be pale tan rather than dark, and the smoke won’t be very flavorful. But put them in the refrigerator overnight and the smoke darkens and the flavor intensifies. It’s the perfect combo for mild fish, whether pink salmon or trout.
Sure there are lots of other fish competing for your attention. But pink salmon are worth your full effort. Better yet, they’re the perfect salmon for kids!