By Hannah Pennebaker
Every odd year in the state of Washington, something amazing happens. Hundreds of thousands of pink salmon will be flooding our shores to make their biannual migration to their spawning grounds. They are the most plentiful salmon in our state, and every angler in the Northwest looks forward to their return. Pinks are also called humpies because the males grow a large hump on their back as they near spawning. They have a delicate, pink meat that is absolutely delicious when grilled or smoked. It is not quite as rich as coho or king salmon meat, but kids or people that don't like fish might actually prefer the milder taste.
One of the best things about pink salmon is that they are readily caught from shore. Most pinks are caught by casting out and jigging 2-5 inch lures designed to look like injured bait fish. There are numerous local piers and beaches where you have a great shot at catching your limit. Pinks are the smallest in the salmon family, so they are wonderful fish to get kids started on. Kids can easily learn and master the art of jigging. Let's go over the basics of where and how to catch these treasured fish.
While coho and king salmon can be tough to catch, pink salmon are plentiful and swim close to shore. Some popular locations to fish for them include Dash Point Pier, Point Defiance Pier, Redondo Pier, Edmonds Pier, and Alki Point. It's great fun to join the chaos of pier fishing. Often, the school will come through and half the dock will have a fish on. Seasoned pier fishermen will bring their own net in the form of a crab ring attached to a long rope. Most nets don't have a long enough handle to reach all the way down to the water from the height of a dock. It's not recommended to hoist pinks up and over for three reasons. One, you can break your rod. Two, you risk smacking the fish onto the concrete, which bruises the meat. Three, if you accidentally hook a fish you must release, such as a wild coho or king, you risk hurting the fish's chances of survival by hitting it against pilings or the concrete.
Alternatively, if you have waders and don't mind getting a little wet, Owen Beach, Browns Point, and Tacoma Narrows Park can also be lucrative. Piers can fill up quickly during a pink salmon year, so it might behoove you to seek out a more spacious beach instead. The principles are the same as pier fishing, but you won't have to worry about netting them from a great height. If one section of the beach is full, you can always move. I've had success at both high and low tides, at all times of the day. The key is to be patient and wait for the school to come through.
As their name suggests, pink salmon will bite any offering, as long as it's pink. But if you take a moment to walk along any pier or beach during a pink year, 90% of anglers will be using buzz bombs. Buzz bombs come in a variety of different sizes and colors. For pinks, I'd recommend a pink buzz bomb in the smallest size. Feel free to try a larger offering if the current is strong or the water is particularly deep. Another lure that's similar to buzz bombs is becoming increasingly popular. Rotators resemble their more famous cousin, but are slightly more rounded and have a reflective strip in the middle. Both lures are worked the same way and have similar action.
Point Wilson darts, candlefish, spoons, and hoochies are viable choices as well. These also imitate injured bait fish and come in a variety of different weights so you can make sure you're getting deep enough.
One thing to remember, no matter what lure you use, is to use a single point, barbless hook. Unfortunately, most lures come with treble hooks already attached. You can snip off the hook with a pair of pliers, and put on a 1/0 or 2/0 siwash hook.
To jig for pinks, find a spot where you think fish are holding and start off by casting close to you. Look for places where current slows down or stops, or for jumping bait fish. Cast out, let your lure sink, raise your arm up about 6 inches to raise the lure, and then drop your arm to let the lure flutter down. Most strikes will happen as the lure falls because it looks like a wounded bait fish to any fish looking for an easy meal. Progressively cast further away and at different angles so you can work all depths and locations. If you don't get any strikes, try a different lure or location. You can also try different jigging techniques. Vary up your retrieve speed and depth to figure out what the fish want that day.
Jigging for pink salmon from shore is an easy, inexpensive way to get delicious meat for your smoker or grill this summer. For most of us in the Northwest, pinks hold a special place in our hearts because it was the very first salmon we caught. This is a great way to introduce kids and beginners alike to salmon fishing. Make sure to stop by Northwest Fishing Reports to find some hot spots, and leave a report of your own to help other fishermen out. Have fun!