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How to Catch Pink Salmon

HuntnFish has spent many years on the water fishing and has caught nearly every species of fish in Washington State.

Notice the prominent hump on the spawning male

Notice the prominent hump on the spawning male

Pink or "Humpy" Salmon

Pink salmon, also known as "humpies," is the smallest of the five Pacific salmon species. The nickname "humpy" comes from the prominent hump that develops on the salmon's back during spawning.

In Alaska, pink salmon run and spawn in large numbers every year, but further south, along the Oregon and Washington coast and up the rivers, pink salmon only run in large numbers every other year: odd years, to be exact. The last run in 2015 had a very strong showing. Unfortunately, the predictions have 2017 stacking up to be a reduced return, but there should still be millions of pink salmon available to catch.

That's me with a kayak full of pink salmon! Caught while trolling with a diver, flasher, and Silver Horde spoon.

That's me with a kayak full of pink salmon! Caught while trolling with a diver, flasher, and Silver Horde spoon.

"Humpy Fever"

Every other summer throughout Western Washington, "Humpy Fever" sets in. This term refers to the large influx of fishermen in sporting stores across the state, hoping to gear up and become a part of the action. While Chinook and silver salmon have provided solid runs the last couple of years, these fish arrive in much smaller numbers and are more difficult to catch. In 2011, almost 6 million pink salmon were estimated to have crowded into Puget Sound and the surrounding river systems.

Such large numbers of salmon present, coupled with generous bag limits and fairly simple fishing techniques, both novice and veteran anglers are drawn from all over to fish for pink salmon. Admittedly, Pink salmon is not quite the delicacy that silver or ling salmon might be, but a tasty fish nonetheless, and an excellent choice for the smoker!

Additionally, with such simple gear and easy-to-boat fish, Pink salmon are an ideal fishery for kids, as they are almost guaranteed to catch one.

What You'll Need

Catching pink salmon requires fairly basic and inexpensive gear. If you're already a veteran angler, you no doubt have everything you need sitting around.

  • Rod: Medium Action, 6 to 12 lb rating would be ideal.
  • Reel: If casting, a spinning real capable of holding 150 yards of 8 or 10 lb mono
  • Reel: If trolling, a casting reel capable of holding 200 yards of 12 to 15 lb mono
  • Line: see Above. Monofilament is suggested, as well as being much cheaper than a braid or fluorocarbon. P-Line CX would do great here.
  • A Fishing License: Can be purchased at most sporting goods stores, or online.

As far as general tackle, that's all you need. I'll break up the next sections of gear into trolling for pink salmon and casting for pink salmon.

Regulations and License Sales

StateDepartment of Wildlife




Casting for Pink Salmon

This is the route that many of the "Humpy Fever" anglers go. Pink salmon can be caught from fishing on the beach, pier, riverbank, or even on a boat. Here, rather than trolling, you will need to cast your lure out to the running salmon. In addition to rod, reel and line, all you need here is a lure. The options number in the hundreds if not thousands, but here are some proven winners:

  • Small Pink Buzz Bombs
  • Small Pink Spoons
  • Small Pink Hoochie Jigs
  • Small Pink Dick Nite Spoons (need additional weight to cast)

With the Buzz Bombs or Jigs, an erratic retrieval will be most successful. With Spoons, a steady retrieval will be more successful. For more information on jigging with Buzz Bombs, read "How to Catch Fish with Buzz Bombs."

Trolling for Pink Salmon

If you have the luxury of a boat, or for that matter, a kayak, trolling can be an effective way to cover a large amount of water. I'll cover the standard rig here.

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What You'll Need:

  • Downrigger, planer board, or weights to keep your bait down (read more here)
  • A flasher. White is standard, silver is good too.
  • Leader line, 12-lb test mono (fluorocarbon might give you a small edge).
  • Rigged small pink hoochie squid (2" approx.)
  • Shrimp scent

Tie the rigged pink hoochie on a short 12 to 18" leader behind the flasher. Make sure and smear the hoochie in scent. Shrimp is my favorite, but herring or any other ocean scent will do. Troll the rig shallow during the morning or evening, and deep during midday. For more information on how to troll using downriggers, weights, or planer boards, more information can be found here: Trolling: Gear, Tackle, and Tactics.

The simple small pink hoochie is standard, however, numerous other options abound. Ace High Flies with tinsel added, hoochies with spinner blades, action disks, etc., the options are limitless. The standard pink hoochie will do fine though, no need to buy one of everything.

An alternate option is trolling diving lures, like a small pink Kwikfish or Wigglewart. These will prove more effective during low light fishing conditions when the fish are higher in the water column. Be careful to match trolling speed to the specific lure!

Other viable trolling options include small pink spoons or trolling small pink Buzz Bombs.

Trolling Speed: Slow!

Time: Early is best, but can be caught all day

Time of year: Watch catch reports, but July for the ocean, August for Puget Sound, and September for the rivers is a general rule.

You're All Set to Go Catch Pink Salmon!

That's all you need to go catch yourself a cooler full! Be sure to stock up on pink gear early as during the height of the season it becomes almost impossible to find some pink hoochies and jigs. As the season nears, check back for updates regarding the number of fish expected to return this summer, as well as any new exciting gear for this season. If you have any questions at all regarding catching pink salmon, feel free to ask, I have an answer!


Ben on August 16, 2015:

Thanks very much for all your advice, I have taken it, and so far still had no luck! My friend has lent me his deep six and I have a silver betsy flasher with a gold nugget coho killer. Fishing about 40 strips of my line deep.

I have been following the boats with all the bells and whistles, and casting a 2.5" pink buzz bomb towards the jumpers. Not a bite yet.

I looked for your email aides but couldn't find it.


huntnfish (author) from Washington on August 11, 2015:

Hey Ben! Sorry to hear you haven't hooked into any yet. Down in Puget Sound its been pretty wild. While most of the salmon are being caught out of large boat with fish finders, downriggers, and all the other bells and whistles, there are plenty to be caught without. I landed 3 out of a kayak this past Saturday! I can't post a picture in the comments, so I'll update the Hub here with a picture. Anyway, first thing is, while Pink Salmon can be caught on any lure, pink colored lures really seem to be best. Stick to hot pink/ neon pink lures 2" and smaller. Buzz Bombs, Rotators, and Lead head jigs with squid skirts/hoochies are all great. Those can be cast off the beach or vertical jigged from your boat. Keep the jigs bouncing around a lot to draw in the salmon. In the morning fish them closer to the surface, then target progressively deeper as the sun gets higher in the sky (the fish will be deeper). Watch the surface for jumping for finning fish, and cast towards them. Trolling may be tough from a row boat, we've been doing best trolling at 2mph- 2.5 mph, admittedly brisk for pinks, but we've been consistently filling the boat. I'd say a flasher is pretty necessary when trolling, so I'd incorporate that into your set up. White is standard, but I've been using a "Moon Jelly" finish. We have caught a couple trolling near the surface, but the majority have been down between 25 and 40' of water. This depth can easily be reached with a trolling diver, its how I do it on the kayak.

I'd say the biggest thing is just finding the fish. Without a fish finder, look for birds, tidal rips, finning or jumping fish, floating debris, or other boats on the water. Next is targeting the right depth. Third is lure type and speed. If you get those three down you'll start catching. The first one is the hardest. Once you know what they like, its game on.

If you have any more questions you can find my email in my profile page, just ask away, I'll gladly respond!

Ben on August 10, 2015:

Nice page you have written here, you certainly know your stuff! I myself am new to all this fishing thing and have caught "salmon fever". I live on the Canadian side of the Straight of Juan De Fuca and have been failing to catch anything from a row boat. I have a couple of lures designed for salmon I have been jigging with, and also slowly trolling with a weight and salmon spoon, but no flasher. I must be up to 12 hours on the water with nothing so far. When you say kids can easily catch them, it makes me wonder if I am just been unlucky or doing something wrong? I read there could be up to 6.5M pinks this year, there must be one out there with my name on! And help/tips would be great. Thanks

huntnfish (author) from Washington on January 10, 2013:

Gold mining and salmon?! That sounds like one heck of a vacation right there! Alaska is definitely on my bucket list

Edwin Brown from Oregon, USA on January 10, 2013:

Fresh fish always beats canned? Right O! I'll have to see what I can do this coming summer/fall. Definitely worth checking out.

By the way, I belong to a gold prospecting club (GPAA) that has some major claim holding areas near Nome Alaska. The Cripple River runs through their property and it has at least three major salmon runs during the summer. The pinkies are good every other year, but most people are focused on the silvers and kings.

Someday I hope to make it up there for a week or two for the gold and the salmon. Dreams, dreams.

huntnfish (author) from Washington on January 10, 2013:

It's a lot of fun! If you're into fishing, Puget Sound would be a great weekend fishing trip during the heat of the run. You'd no doubt bring home lots of fresh Pinks, which beat the canned kind hands down in my opinion.

Edwin Brown from Oregon, USA on January 10, 2013:

I eat lots of pink salmon, and I love it. Unfortunately, I don't catch them but instead get pink salmon in a can, Alaskan caught.

I live in Oregon, about an hour from the coast, but I was unaware that pinks run up our coastal streams (except for the Columbia). I will definitely have to check this out.

Nice hub, you obviously know your stuff. Thank you for the heads up.

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