How to Catch Pink Salmon: 10 Tips For Puget Sound Fishing

Of the 5 salmon species that grace our Puget Sound waters in Washington State, pink salmon are some of the most voracious and abundant of all, with an average size of 4 to 5 pounds.  

On odd years, the 2 year life cycle of the pink salmon brings them back from ocean feeding grounds to spawn in the Puget Sound’s river systems.  

While it is hard to predict just how many fish will be returning, there are usually enough to marshal excited hoards of anglers. Weekends during peak season will find the water packed with boats and equally busy public beaches and piers all the way from the Strait of Juan de Fuca down to the south sound. 

While pink fishing may not be the best time for solitude, the sheer number of fish will bring plenty of action packed fun this summer. 

To make the most of your 2021 pink season, here are 10 simple tips that will boost your success.  

1. Follow the pink migration

Fishing for pink salmon can begin in early July as they enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca, peaking in late July and early August.  Salmon run through in groups and the fishing can vary from day to day.

Places like Sekiu and Port Angeles provide good access for boat anglers.  Enjoy the summer weather and bring your RV or tent.  There are also numerous places for shore access along the Strait. 

As mid August approaches, pinks enter the Seattle area waters en masse.  The fish will be most bountiful throughout the sound during the last two weeks of August.  

Alki Beach in Seattle, as well as the Des Moines and Redondo piers, offer great access to the pink runs during this time.  A slew of other public beach areas are also available.

By September the fish are now making their way up the rivers to spawn and you can catch them during the entire month.  As the fish enter the rivers, their meat quality declines.  For the best eating fish, try to get them in the salt water while they are still bright and silver.  

2. Fish early and late

The prolific numbers of pink salmon make it possible to catch fish all day long, but early morning, just after first light, brings on a super heavy bite that you don’t want to miss.  

If you are not yet exhausted by the time the sun begins to set, the evening bite can be equally impressive.  

During both these times, fish are especially concentrated closer to shore, so arrive at your spot early to be ready for the bite.  Often you will see a line of head lamps along the beach as fisherman attempt to limit out before the crowds arrive.

3. Gear up and put on some pink 

The pink salmon gets its name from the color of its flesh due to its diet of primarily plankton.  However, they also have an affinity to the color pink which makes it extremely easy to decide on the best lure for the job.  It is possible to use other bright colors as well. Chartreuse, orange and even blue will work. 

The most popular and effective lures for casting from shore or boat include pink buzz bombs and mini hootchie jigs with a single-point barbless hook. 

The fishing technique for these lures is as simple as the color choice.  Cast it out and retrieve while lifting your rod tip up in a vertical motion and then dropping your rod tip to let the jig flutter down. Reel up the slack and continue the jigging.  Try to avoid hitting bottom and snagging your gear.  

When casting from shore, use a 7 to 10 foot medium to medium-heavy spinning setup with 15-20 pound test line.  Clear monofilament works well.  A long limber pole will allow you to cast further, but it is not always necessary since pinks can be found in a few feet of water on occasion.  

If you are casting jigs from a boat or kayak, I recommend light, 7 to 8 foot, spinning combos with 12 pound test line.  This is plenty stout for efficiently landing fish that are seldom larger than 5 pounds.

If you are fly fishing, a pink clouser fly is the top choice in the Puget Sound.  A 7 or 8 weight fly rod with a sinking line will give the fly tantalizing action when stripping the line in with intermittent pauses.

4. Troll to target pinks

Pink salmon are not particularly strong swimmers and therefore will stick close to shorelines with calm water while avoiding areas with strong currents or rip tides.  

Not only does this trait help shore anglers find success, it also enables boat anglers to better focus their time in likely spots.  You do not need to fish very deep either.  20 to 60 feet is plenty deep and can be achieved with a down rigger, deep six diver or lead banana weights in the 4 to 6 ounce range.

The most common trolling setup for pinks consists of a small 8 inch white or silver flasher board followed by a pink coyote spoon or pink hootchies (plastic squid).  

Use a short leader of approximately 24 inches between the flasher and lure.  A short leader ensures that maximum action is imparted to the squid or spoon.  Pink salmon are aggressive feeders and will readily strike once attracted to your gear.  

Experiment with your trolling speed.  I have caught pink salmon by slow trolling from a kayak as well as faster speeds when using a motor boat.  2 to 3 miles per hour is a sweet spot.  

If you are struggling to catch fish, adjust your depth and distance from shore.  As you spend more time fishing, you will find the places were pinks school and can be caught all day long.

5. Fish from public beaches and piers

A boat is certainly not necessary to catch a limit for the day.  The fishing equipment required to catch pink salmon is so simple that casting from shore will yield enough action to make your arms sore.  

Public beaches and piers near populated areas can be busy during peak runs.   However, there are many public beaches so finding your own spot is not impossible.  Here are a few places where I have caught fish from shore.

  • Alki Beach Park
  • Lincoln Park
  • Redondo Beach
  • Dash Point Park
  • Browns Point Light House Park
  • Point Defiance Park

Most of these spots offer free access and fewer crowds are found on week day mornings.  

Once you have a spot picked out, there are a few things to bring along to increase your catch rate and fun when fishing from shore.  

  • Bring waders or rubber boots to give you the option to reach deeper water if the fish are not shallow.  This is especially useful during an outgoing tide.  
  • To keep you fishing longer, pack along a few comfort items like a camp chair, food and water.  While you could very well limit out early, some days require more time and patience.
  • Invite friends and family too.  Pink salmon are great for introducing kids to the sport and a day at the beach is never dull with all sorts of sea life to keep them occupied.  

6. Look for jumping fish

Pinks are some of the more acrobatic fish in the Puget Sound and they show off their style by leaping out of the water when feeding or swimming near shore.  

They can be seen jumping frequently through out the day, so keep an eye out for brief flashes of silver and white.

When you see a fish jump, quickly motor over to the last location you saw it and start casting jigs or buzz bombs.  The odds are good that you can chase down a limit of fish using this technique.

7. Catch and release when the fishing is hot

Sometimes the fishing will be so hot that you can catch your limit of four (check the regulations for current limits and season dates) before you finish your first cup of morning coffee.  

Catch and release fishing will keep you in the action longer and is completely legal until you have retained your limit of fish.  As a bonus, if you have multiple anglers in one boat, everyone can continue to fish until all limits are filled.

If you plan to catch and release, be responsible and kind to the fish.  Avoid using a net or handling the fish too much.  When you get the fish up to the boat, simply use a long pair of pliers or other hook removing device to quickly return the fish with minimal stress.

8. Know your salmon species identification

It is important to know the key identification characteristics of the salmon species you may catch.  Retaining only legal fish is your responsibility and fines may be incurred for incorrect harvest.

Pink salmon are often confused with juvenile chinook or coho salmon.  

For easier identification, look for large spots along the back and tail that coho lack.  Also, check the mouth.  Pinks salmon have a white mouth area without teeth.  The gums and tongue are sometimes black like a chinook.  Other identifying features are small scales and a lack of silver streaks on the tail.

9. Fish the rivers too

By the end of August the majority of the pink salmon are ready to run up the rivers to spawn.  Male pinks develop a characteristic hump, which is where the nickname “humpies” comes from.  

Fishing in the lower stretches can yield bright fish that still have good quality meat.  As the season runs on and the fish move further upstream, they begin to deteriorate near the final stages of their lives.  

Once the fish enter the river, the fishing can get fast and furious. Often you will be shoulder to shoulder with your fellow angler and learning river etiquette is essential to avoid conflict.  

During the spawning period, salmon feed less aggressively.  A sensitive rod and line combo will be ideal for detecting the light bites that are easily missed.  Using a long sensitive pole with braided line makes it possible to feel the slightest of nibbles.

Just remember, intentionally snagging fish is illegal and only fish hooked in the mouth or on the head are considered legal to keep. 

10.  Bleed your catch for better eating

Removing the blood from fish has long been known to improve meat quality.  Blood contains break down products of metabolism and if not promptly removed, can contaminate the meat once the fish is dead.

Pink salmon can be quickly dispatched by tearing a few gill rakes while holding the fish in the water for a minute or so.  Clubbing is not necessary to kill them and will only add to the damage of meat. 

Once the fish is bled, place it immediately on crushed ice to keep it cool.

By following this process, you will ensure that your grilled salmon dinner is a hit.

Go catch some pinks

Don’t miss the opportunity to take part in this amazing fishery.  Pink salmon offer a great way to experience a low cost fishing adventure that is suitable for the whole family.   

Whether you are traveling from out of state or from somewhere local, grab your pole and hit the water for your chance to take home a Puget Sound gem.  

Want to learn about more Puget Sound fishing opportunities? Then don’t miss reading our comprehensive Puget Sound clamming and squid fishing guides.