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Monday, 17 August 2015 00:00

Puget Sound Pinks

Written by Mike Cline
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In odd numbered years, millions of 3lb-5lb pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) leave the northern Pacific Ocean to enter tributary rivers of the Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington / Oregon coastline. The last three seasonal runs into the Pacific Northwest have set records for abundance of returning pinks. Pink salmon have a strict two-year life cycle and for some quirk of nature, odd-numbered years see runs magnitudes larger than in even-numbered years.

For the kayak angler, there’s no better place to target pink salmon than the Puget Sound, for several reasons. One, pinks are not difficult to catch as they hold close to the shoreline in waters less than 40’ deep, foraging as they move into and through the Puget Sound heading for their native rivers. Two, they willingly attack just about any lure or fly that is pink. Three, the Puget Sound, although it can be treacherous in severe weather, is a rather docile inland sea providing a lot of sheltered water and almost unlimited access to over 2500 miles of shorelines via local, county, and state parks and Washington Department of Fish and Game access points.

For 2015, the pinks arrived early in July into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife were predicting a run of 6.8 million pink salmon heading for the major rivers of the Puget Sound. They made the same prediction in 2013, but they were wrong. Over eight million pinks came into the sound in 2013. In late July, they will be concentrated along the shorelines and points of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and northern parts of the Puget Sound around Seattle, Port Townsend, and Whidbey Island headed for rivers in impressive numbers like the Snohomish (1.6M), Skagit (6K), Nooksack (2.8K) Stillaguamish (2.1K) and Green (6.2K). Into August, the pinks will continue to move south into the South Sound around Tacoma and Gig Harbor, headed for the Puyallup (8.3K) and Nisqually Rivers (9.7K). Although all these salmon provide a lot of action for shore-bound anglers, the kayak angler has the freedom to hunt these fish off less accessible beaches and points. Most public parks and beaches have some sort of launching facility, but anywhere you can find access to a public beach, you can launch a kayak.

Like most inshore saltwater angling, tides play an important role in when and where to fish. The Puget Sound is no exception and can experience tidal changes as much as 15’ in six hours. At extreme high tides some beaches are completely covered, and many a beached kayak has floated away on a rapidly-rising tide.

Gearing up for pink salmon is easy, as can be seen in this WDFW video:  


Medium spinning rods or 6wt – 8wt fly rods with sink tips are the normal choice. Lures and flies can be obtained at most sporting goods stores in the region. Whether using flies or hardware, the Puget Sound is barbless hook fishing only and to my understanding, strictly enforced. In mid-summer the weather is usually fair around the Puget Sound, but wind and rain can cool things off. The Sound is cold saltwater so most wading anglers use waders, even in summer, as do some kayak anglers.

Of course, there’s the matter of fishing licenses. Washington State has both freshwater and saltwater licenses, as well as combination licenses. Non-residents can purchase one or two-day licenses for saltwater, as well as a season license. Anglers also need a Sport Catch Record Card to record and report any salmon kept. In 2015, the daily limit for pink salmon in most areas was four, but anglers should always be aware of changes in limits and seasons in different management areas in the Puget Sound.

Puget Sound pink salmon are a great angling opportunity for kayak anglers that isn’t taken advantage of all that often.

Read 8875 times Last modified on Sunday, 09 August 2015 12:53


# Minorcan 2015-08-23 12:56
Excellent article and right on the money. I lived on Camano Island which is in the northern part of Puget Sound. These are very fun to fish for and even more fun to catch. Get them early in the migration while they are still fresh and not beaten up like they can get further up river. Good tasting too when fresh. The pink lures are the best and feather type flies are killer. Thanks for posting!!!

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