Puget Sound Pinks by Jason Brooks
It’s easy to get lost in thought as you smell the fresh ocean water while an afternoon breeze blows.
With the sun shining off of glass skyscrapers and the Olympic Mountains in the far distance summer salmon fishing in Puget Sound is uniquely relaxing. Then all of a sudden you notice a school of pinks nearing and it’s a quick dash to get the gear up off of the downriggers and stowed while grabbing the pre-rigged spinning rods.
A relaxing troll turns into a frenzy of pitching jigs and twitching them through the school and pure pandemonium breaks out, “Get the net, I can’t I got one too, you get the net!” And then just like that the school has moved on and it’s all over until you spot the next pod of fish.
Pink fishing has become a welcomed event for both anglers and tackle stores as everyone wants in on the fast and fun salmon action.
Grocery stores with small sporting goods departments that have an isle of fishing gear will soon be stocked with end caps of just about everything you can think of all in hot pink.
Tackle stores will have empty shelves where once they were stocked with pink Buzz Bomb, jigs, darts, hoochie skirts, and Corkies.
Rivers get very crowded and in recent odd year runs with pinks thrown into the mix having bonus limits the unfortunate side effect is massive amounts of garbage, unruly crowds and drunken brawls over one of the smallest salmon to swim.
Local tribes that have fishing rights are taking legal action against the state as well and some of the rivers are pending possible complete closures with a minimum of at least restricted fishing.
This is why come August, I will be in the salt of Puget Sound. Millions of pinks usually return, and it is relatively easy to locate and catch pinks while fishing in the sound by both boat and shore bound anglers.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Larry Phillips has helped track the fish and suggests finding any point that juts out into Puget Sound as a place to fish.
Pink salmon eat zooplankton, small saltwater insects, and use cover of kelp beds and structure for safety, and guidance on their voyage. Because of this when the fish head south out of the Straits they tend to hug the shoreline, especially the east shoreline of Puget Sound. There are several public beaches, parks, points and piers along the east side of the sound for anglers to pitch their lures.
One of the best ways to fish is simply troll along, targeting all of the salmon species while looking for schools of pinks that are on the move.
They stay fairly close to the surface so when I have enough people in the boat to allow for multiple rods I like to set the downriggers down fairly deep with the standard 11-inch flasher with Coyote spoon or a hoochie skirt and target the kings and coho.
I then stack another rod that only goes down about 20 to 30 feet with again a flasher but it’s trailed by a short leader with a mini hoochie skirt in pink. Coho like this offering too and even a king has been landed a time or two but really I am trying to find the pinks with this set up.
If I catch a pink on the downriggers I simply raise the rods to that depth and circle around or troll in a “Z” pattern to get more fish, always keeping an eye out for schools along the surface or other fisherman catching fish.
Keep a close watch on the shore bound anglers as well since the fish hug the shorelines sometimes the bankies actually do better than the boaters.
When targeting schools of fish at the surface either from the bank, a pier, or by boat twitching ¼-ounce to 3/8-ounce pink jigs is becoming popular.
Pink Salmon Fishing With Lures
Making your own jig by putting a pink squid skirt on a lead head jig is a fairly easy and cheap way to fish. Pink Buzz Bombs, P-line pink darts, and pink worms on a jig head are other lures to try.
The schooling fish are very wary and if you cast right into the school you will scatter them and they won’t bite.
Instead try to cast over the school of fish or way out in front of them and then twitch or retrieve your lure as the schools of fish pass by. For anglers that might not be able to do this a pink marabou jig under a float works very well.
The wave action will cause the float to “bob” the jig and the marabou flutters with this action. The best part is that you can anticipate where the school will come by as you watch it approach. Cast out in front of the school and just wait for the fish to come by the jig and set the hook hard once the float goes under.
Puget Sound Humpy Hotspots
For places to fish starting in the straights and heading inland the ever popular kelp beds just outside of Sekiu, Port Angeles, and Sequim are the first places to get the incoming pinks.
I am not one to chase internet fishing reports but I do keep a close eye on the pink reports out of this area, not so much for my fishing up there but just to see when the fish are heading this way.
The first reports are usually in mid-July and then the excitement and anticipation builds. Hood Canal has decent returns of pinks, most of which are heading to the Hoodsport hatchery.
This is a great place to fish in a float tube or pontoon boat as the nearest boat launch is a ways away but you can access the water right at the hatchery and fish from shore as the tide comes in or launch your float tube or pontoon through high tide which is the best fishing as the pinks head for the inlet to the hatchery and adjoining creek.
For some reason these pinks seem to arrive a little earlier than the Puget Sound fish and by the end of July it’s in full swing. They are very active as they arrive and fly fishing for them is popular with pink bunny leaches or pink shrimp flies stripped back at a steady pace with a slow sinking line on a 6-weight rod is a lot of fun.
Watch out for seals that like to grab your fish and realize that if you are in a float tube then catch and release is the best practice. My neighbor told me of a horror story where he had a stringer of fish hooked to a “D” ring on his float tube. A seal came up and grabbed his stringer and almost flipped him over in his float tube. Lesson learned a stringer of pinks is not worth a close encounter with a seal.
Back to Puget Sound bound pinks.
As the fish come out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca some make the turn and head north to the Canadian rivers or head for Washington’s Skagit River. The rest head south to go around the southern end of Whidbey Island a “Speed bump” of sorts for the returning fish.
Double bluff on the western side of Whidbey’s south end and the infamous Possession Point can become a pink hotspot as the fish round the horn of the island to head to the massive Snohomish system in Everett. As the schools of fish make that turn some will split off and hug the eastern side of the Kitsap peninsula’s Skunk Bay and Point No Point, with great public beach access for shore anglers, car toppers and kayakers.
The fish heading to the Snohomish system congregate at the aptly named “Humpy Hollow” just outside of the Mukilteo boat launch. Sight fishing is not as popular here as it seems the fish run a little deeper and are just trying to get their bearings after heading around Whidbey and turning north back towards Everett. Trolling with downriggers and using 9- or 11-inch white flashers or dodgers with a small pink squid or hoochie skirt and double 1/0 barbless hooks is trailed behind just about every boat in this part of the Sound.
The Snohomish River dumps into Puget Sound through a series of large sloughs. As the fish enter the fresh water they tend to mill around a bit getting use to the change from the salt and trying to decide where to head up to find the river. Fishing here is very popular in small boats by slowly trolling dick nites or standard wiggle warts both in pink of course.
Seattle’s skyline and famous Space Needle provide a very unique backdrop for fishing. You can actually take a city bus right to the fishing grounds at the Elliot Bay fishing pier at terminal 86. Alki point offers some beach access as well for car toppers and kayakers with an occasional school of fish for those that want to beach comb with a fishing rod ready.
The Duwamish is the lower Green River and is fairly docile in flows as it flushes into Elliot Bay. This is a boat show here but again any boat will do and in fact small boats do better as you can get around easier. Casting wiggle warts, pink spoons and twitching jigs are the most common ways to fish here.
Continuing south along the eastern shores of Puget Sound is the Redondo public fishing pier and boat launch.
This area is prime for pinks for those with small boats and like to sight fish. The next point is just not too far away, Dash Point State Park with yet another fishing pier. There is no boat launch but car toppers, kayaks and pontoon boats can be launched there. I can attest that fishing the public piers is an experience in themselves. As a school of fish nears the entire pier goes crazy. Everyone starts pitching their lures out and it becomes a real frenzy. You haven’t experienced combat fishing until you have fished for pinks off of a public fishing pier like Dash Points.
As the fish keep heading down the shoreline towards the last two main rivers they run up, the Puyallup and the Nisqually they must first go around Browns Point.
A county park with limited parking but plenty of shore space. The fish mill around in the bay just to the north of the point that is capped off at the top by Dash Point. The fish are waiting for high tide so fishing a few hours before the tide change through the change is best and once the fish round the point they pretty much race to the Puyallup tide flats and waterways.
Browns Point is a great place to take the kids or those that don’t fish much but just want some entertainment.
You can actually sit out on the point and watch the schools of fish arrive by watching the anglers catching the fish. It’s like a tidal wave of fish which starts at one end and continues all the way to the point and around it. Prime real estate here is right at the tip of the point where the fish come the closest to the shore.
Tacoma’s waterfront is a long boardwalk known as Ruston Way with restaurants and parks. There are two piers, the first being next to the Silver Cloud Hotel and the next is just a bit further up the waterway at the Les Davis public fishing pier. Point Defiance offers a public boat launch as well as a long beach access area known as Owens Beach picnic area.
Most of the pinks caught off of Point Defiance are by-catches by anglers targeting the kings and coho. However those that like to target pinks can do well by trolling past the slag pile towards Ruston Way. Pulling Wiggle Warts or pink Brad’s mini-Super cut plugs with a 2-ounce banana weight.
Keep heading towards the Puyallup to target the pinks that return to this mud colored river and you come to the waterways. Pinks will mill around Thea’s Foss waterway in the shadows of the city skyline looking for the mouth of the Puyallup. There is a city park right at the head of the waterway with a bulkhead to fish from.
The Nisqually is the most southern river to receive a strong run of pinks in Puget Sound. To target these fish start by fishing around Point Evans just north of the Tacoma Narrows Bridges on the Gig Harbor side. Trolling through the narrows along the western shore just outside of the kelp beds all the way to Point Fosdick is popular. Since the tides rip through here there isn’t much sight fishing as you are constantly being pushed along, as well as the fish being on the move since the Nisqually is a ways south yet.
The mouth of the Nisqually is a tricky area with a large mud flat that easily strands boats on low tides. This is why the “Green can” marker is a popular spot to troll. It marks the mouth of the river and just to the outside of the can is where the fish stack up waiting to go up the river.
A public launch is located just south of the Nisqually Delta and Wildlife Refuge. Thanks to this Delta and cooperative projects the tide flats have been restored to wetlands instead of a diked up river spewing into the sound. This has allowed juvenile salmon a refuge for their first year or so in the salt water. Because of this Larry Phillips said the return rate for pink salmon in the Nisqually system has been surreal.
While a return of one to one, meaning for every adult fish that returns to the river to spawn a juvenile will return from their offspring, being considered healthy the Nisqually has seen a return of seven or eight to one! Hopefully the Nisqually will take some pressure off of the other local rivers that are having the issues with access due to unruly behavior.
Because of our rivers becoming ever popular the downfall is bad behavior, garbage strewn about and access being cut off. As much as I like fishing rivers I also like my elbow room. That is why this year I plan on hitting the salt for pinks. A sunny day with a cool breeze and a pair of sunglasses to keep the reflection from the skyscrapers down is the way to fish this summer.
- Written by Jason Brooks