This year, an estimated 6 million pinks are expected to enter Puget Sound rivers. That’s a lot less than the 9.8 million that arrived two years ago, but the 2009 run was a record, according to state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
That number smashed the previous record of 7.4 million fish.
In Washington, there’s a major run of pinks every two years during years ending in an odd numbers. They spawn in most of the state’s major rivers from the Puyallup north. Local rivers with significant runs include the Snohomish and its tributaries, the Stillaguamish and the Skagit.
Despite their smaller size and the fact that they’re not the greatest fighters, pinks can be great sport, especially for fly fishers. Their large numbers help. They’re also more accessible to anglers than most other salmon. As they head for their native rivers, pinks often travel very close to the beach and are often in shallower water than other salmon.
Pink life cycle
Pinks, also called humpies because of the large hump on the backs of males as they get ready to spawn, leave for the saltwater soon after they’re born, working their way along Washington and Canada to the Alaska coast.
They are true omnivores, eating a variety of food from small crustaceans (krill) to shrimp, squid and, as they grow, baitfish. Many of the organisms they eat are pink or orange in color, and pinks like brighter colors, especially shades of pink. That’s why they like lures and flies of that color.
Pinks are being caught right now off Seiku, and they arrived about three weeks early. It won’t be long before they head further into the Sound.
Pursuing pinks in the saltwater is a great idea because the fish are in good physical shape and pursue lures and flies more aggressively. Fly fishers need a 6 or 7 weight rod. A 5 weight can handle pinks, but not the occasional coho you can expect to catch.
In the saltwater, pinks are generally within 50 feet of the surface and frequently within 25 to 30 feet, especially when light levels are low in the early morning, at dusk, or on cloudy days.
If you have a boat, the area called Humpy Hollow south of Mukilteo is usually great for pinks. But they’re also available close to the beach as they head for their native rivers.
Good beach areas: Picnic Point, Meadowdale beach, Mukilteo beach, Kayak Point Park and South Whidbey State Park are all good public areas to fish.
Pinks in rivers
Fish start hitting the rivers in mid August if there’s enough water, reaching good numbers in the first part of September.
Pinks, when given the chance, will spawn as close to the Sound as they can because it makes it easier for the young salmon to get to the saltwater. If you have a boat, fishing in the Snohomish River sloughs can be highly successful.
Pink lures, flies
In the saltwater and in rivers, trolling a hot pink mini squid or small spoon or casting a hot pink lead-headed jig work well. In rivers, bounce the jig along the bottom or drift a one-eighth ounce jig under a float. Flycasters should try a pink clouser or reverse spider in the saltwater and a pink comet or Humbert Humpy in the rivers.
Learn to make your own lures and flies from Mike Benbow, author of The Herald’s Fly-fishing with Mike blog:
Eating a humpy
Humpies taste good on the barbecue if handled correctly, but they get soft and tasteless if they aren’t.
Immediately upon catching a humpy, cut both gills and let the fish bleed out. Then clean it and put it on ice.
Don’t let it sit in the fridge for days. Eat it right away or freeze it.