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By Jason Brooks
There is something odd about odd-numbered years and it comes in the color pink. The return of the Pacific Ocean’s smallest salmon, the Oncorhynchus Gorbusha, or pink salmon commonly known as the humpy salmon, will be arriving in the millions this month. An estimated 3.95 million humpy salmon will be making their way back to the natal rivers and streams of Puget Sound and Hood Canal. The 3- to 5-pound fish are aggressive and easy to catch, which makes them a fun target for anglers in the region. Here are a few tips to catch more pink salmon this month in the Puget Sound and surrounding areas.
Pinks are primarily plankton, krill, aquatic insects, and crustacean feeders so this means any fish you catch will likely be thinking they are eating big shrimp or just targeting the lure out of aggression. Regardless of why the fish bite, they live up to their names by attacking pink-colored lures, jigs, and flies. This is where knowing what gear to use and how to use it will help you catch more fish.
Pitching and twitching a Rock Dancer Bucktail Jig 1/4 oz. is a fun way to fish for humpy salmon. Schools can be intercepted and the twitch is a great way to catch them, but if you find yourself in a calm spot with no other anglers around, another way to catch them is to rig a Rock Dancer Bucktail Jig 1/8 oz. in Pink/Cerise under a slip float and cast it out. Then, let the wave action do the rest and watch for the float to go down. This is also a great way to have younger or inexperienced anglers catch some fish as it is an easy technique to master.
This is how I learned to fish for pinks over 20 years ago at the Hoodsport hatchery where anglers were pitching lures trying to get the fish to bite, but as the tide came in we were pushed up onto the bank and, in the chaos of pleasure boaters cruising by creating waves, I switched to the slip float and began hooking fish that were heading towards the hatchery. This a great technique along the shoreline but keep in mind that if other anglers are trying to cast and retrieve lures then the float technique can be hard to do as it is a stationary way to fish.
Another effective way to catch pink salmon is to break out the fly rods, or a long and limber “noodle” rod with some added split shot and throw the Smile Blade Fly in a pink pattern. If using a fly rod, try a slow sinking line and strip it in slowly. The best part of the Smile Blade Fly is the Mylar blade will spin at very slow speeds and you can switch out the blade easily. Try contrasting colors or a bright pink or cerise blade to catch fish.
When it comes to trolling nothing will beat a Double D Dodger trailed by a Mack’s Lure Cha Cha Sockeye Squidder. The Smile Blade and pink squid skirt are perfect for catching pinks. Also, give the smaller-sized Cha Cha 1.5 Kokanee rig a try. The pink Koke-A-Nut and pink Double Whammy Ringmaster are also great lures to fish behind the dodger. If you are looking for even more erratic action lure then give the Pee Wee Wiggle Hoochie a try, especially in the early morning hours as the UV bill will help attract fish. No matter the lure, just be sure it is pink.
The Double D dodger in the 7.6 or the 5.8 sizes work well with all of the lures mentioned above. The top color dodger tends to be Silver and if you are fishing multiple rods then you can utilize the attachment points that allow the dodger to kick out to the side and get it further away from the boat.
Since pink salmon are crustacean eaters the best scent to add to any lure is krill or shrimp, but don’t overlook Bloody Tuna as, for some reason, that flavor catches everything. Mack’s Lure UV Bait Scents SBF Pro Gel by Pro-Cure and Pro-Cure Super Sauce is sticky and works great by smearing it on the Double D Dodger or filling the Squid Skirts. If you are using a Smile Blade Fly or a Rock Dancer Bucktail Jig then use the water-soluble scents by Pro-Cure as they won’t gum up the action of the fly or jig, but be sure to reapply often as it tends to wash off easily.
Pink salmon don’t go deep, though some can be found there. Instead, schools of fish tend to stay right at the surface. You can sight fish for them as they can be seen jumping and cruising right under the top of the water. Pinks are very skittish because of this so, if you see a school of fish, try to time it to where your lures will intercept the fish as they approach. If trolling, then be sure to use a long setback and troll in a zig-zag pattern to keep the gear in front of the school as it comes near. If you are casting lures to the fish then cast past the school and bring the lure back into them as casting right into the fish often has them scatter.
The best thing about pink salmon is that they cruise along the shoreline as they migrate back to their natal rivers. This means shore-bound anglers can actually do better than those in a boat. Puget Sound offers several public beaches and access areas and all of them will have schools of pinks cruising by. Not only are beaches good places to fish, but so are the many fishing piers in Puget Sound. Keep in mind that beaches and piers can be very busy. If fishing from a pier, then it is best to get there early and be ready to fish alongside a lot of people. Pinks have soft mouths and so most who fish off of a pier will use a crab ring as a makeshift landing net to haul the fish up over the side of the railing which can be far above the water.
Additionally, pink salmon make a great small boat, kayak, and even float tube fishery. Places like Hoodsport, Dash Point state park, and Thea’s Waterway in Tacoma offer protected waters and the ability to launch small watercraft. When fishing from these devices be sure to give twitching a try or drag around a Smile Blade Fly on light gear.
These tiny salmon are plentiful and fun to catch. With nearly 4 million of them heading back this month now is the time to grab the fishing rod, with a set of waders, and hit a local beach, or stroll along the fishing piers and troll along the shorelines and catch some fish.