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Welcome To Pinkatropolis

By Terry Wiest

(Originally Published in the July 2009 Issue of
NorthWest Sportsman's Magazine)

Alex Harrington shows off a very nice Pink from salt

DES MOINES, Wash.-Five-point-one-six MILLION pink salmon in Washington! Woo-hoo! I'm already stoked for what promises to be at least two solid months of the frenetic salmon fishing that only happens in odd-numbered years. Although our neighbors in North Puget Sound will benefit from the lion's share, state managers still predict nearly 1.6 million fish will pull into the Central and South Sound's Green and Puyallup rivers. That's a lot of filled freezers, stuffed smokers and endless barbecues. More importantly, it's a lot of bent rods, good memories and fantastic opportunities to get those youngsters out to enjoy salmon fishing the way it should be, with punched cards.

PINKS, OR HUMPIES as they're also known as, start entering Puget Sound in July. Although the thought of a 20-plus-pound Chinook seems more enticing, some days it just doesn't work out. That's where the pinks will fill the boat - literally! You will catch pinks incidentally while fishing for Chinook or coho, but if you target them specifically, the action can be incredible.

They will be found throughout the South Sound, but there are a couple areas which typically see high concentrations of these little critters.

In Marine Area 10 off Seattle, the East Waterway of the Duwamish acts as a funnel for the hundreds of thousands of fish headed up the Green River. Put your gear down in front of the waterway and fish up towards the first bridge. The bridge will be shoulder to shoulder with fisherman, so give them their space. You'll know if you get too close if you start getting bombarded with lead. To the south, in Area 11, the water from Redondo down Poverty Bay and around Browns Point acts as a highway for pinks returning to the Puyallup River. The area from shore out a couple hundred yards should be thick with fresh chrome fish ready to pounce on your presentation.

INDEED, PINKS ARE NOTORIOUS for traveling in schools, so once you hook up, it may, and should, equal multiple hookups. Don't reel up the other lines when hooked up - they could be bit as well. Generally target from 20 feet down to 60 feet, but as the sun comes out and temperatures warm, don't be afraid to drop down 90 feet or more.

That said, using downrigger is going to be the most effective method. We use three Scotty 106 downriggers off my boat, running them at 25 and 50 feet for two anglers, 25, 40 and 55 feet for three anglers, and 25, 35, 45 and 60 feet with four. Once we find the depth they are biting at, we adjust all the lines to that depth.

When trolling, your speed, or lack thereof, is crucial. If you think you're going slow enough, slow down some more. Troll with the tide. If you have enough room and there are no boats next to you, zigzag with the tide. In general, as you switch directions, your line will slow down, many times enticing a strike. If you've done the Lake Washington sockeye fishery, that's the slow I'm talking about. You want your presentation to SLOWLY sway back and forth.

SPEAKING OF PRESENTATIONS, think, well, PINK! It may sound corny, but I swear these salmon will hit anything pink.

The ULTIMATE pink-catching combination is the Silver Horde Pink Katcher Kit! You cannot go wrong with this pre-tied setup. It consists of a white 8-inch flasher, 16 inches of leader and a hot-pink hoochie. Put this combo 15 feet behind the downrigger ball and it should be fish on! During our last pink year, 2007, I experimented a bit, substituting a Silver Horde Ace Hi Fly for the hoochie, and had tremendous success. This year the Lynnwood, Wash.-based company came out with the Pink Jr. Fly, and it should be phenomenal; I guarantee it'll be on my line. If fishing below 60 feet, remember that red, or pink, is the first color to disappear from the color spectrum beneath the surface. For that reason, pink isn't as important, but it is important for the fish to see the bait. Switch to a UV or glow hoochie or an Ace Hi.

If you'd rather use an 11-inch flasher or dodger, that's fine, but still troll slowly enough so that it "dodges" rather than turns over. Also, because of the larger flasher or dodger, even going this slow will have a little more action, so increase your leader to 18 to 20 inches.

If you'd rather not use a dodger or a flasher, that's fine too. Put on a Silver Horde UV Kingfisher spoon.

With all of your presentations, use scent. Shrimp Smelly Jelly or Special Mix works great.

Diehard bait fisherman? No problem, dye your herring pink. Use the brine mix on Salmonuniversity.com, but instead of using the bluing, add Brite Pink Fluorescent Bad Azz dye.

PINKS WILL MAINLY RUN 3 to 5 pounds with the occasional 8- to 10-pounder. The state saltwater record is a little over 11 pounds while the biggest freshwater fish was 2007's 15.4-pounder.

That said, you don't need to use normal salmon gear. Light tackle makes a world of difference when it comes to having fun, and these fish will provide it. A 6- to 10-pound rated steelhead rod is just plain old fun when you hook up. Not a downrigger fan? No problem here either. In fact, a way to have an absolute blast with these fish is to cast Buzz Bombs. Remember, these fish are generally in the top 60 feet of the water column. Early mornings they're not hard to find on your fish finder. Shut off the motor and cast just "past" the school if you can. Let the lure flutter down. If you don't get a strike as it falls, start retrieving once it has fallen 30 to 60 feet (at the rate of about 1 foot per second). When retrieving, use a "twitching" motion and reel in the slack as it's falling. As Tom Nelson from Salmon University can attest, you'll receive some vicious strikes using this method.

What color Bomb? You know.

Now here's a method that you won't see many using on the salt, but take my word, it will flat-out catch fish - a No. 1 pink or 50/50 Dick Nite spoon weighted under a float! Yep, the same lure that's caught thousands upon thousands of pinks in the rivers works in the salt too.

Because these are such light spoons, you do need to have some weight before your leader and you also need to target the shallows, usually in lagoons or near beaches that are only 10 to 20 feet deep. This method is an absolute killer just north of Browns Point at the mouth of Commencement Bay. To hook it up, use a float (dink float works just fine), then 4 feet to a -ounce weight, then another 4 feet to your spoon. Cast it out and let it drift with the tide. Just like we want our presentation from a downrigger to sway back and forth, so too do we want the spoon to just flutter and not turn over. This is VERY effective when you see pinks moving through in schools. If you can't see them in the shallows, try the aforementioned tactics. To see them effectively make sure you're wearing good quality polarized sunglasses, like those from Ocean Waves.

ONCE YOU GET A PINK in the boat, it's extremely important to bleed the fish immediately. Cut both gills and let them bleed out. After only a few minutes, clean the fish and put them on ice! Failure to bleed and clean fast will result in poor quality fish. But when done immediately, you'll have some excellent table fare, especially for the BBQ or smoker.