By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle
Pink salmon, or humpies as they are commonly called, attract anglers from around the state and beyond who are willing to drop everything to make a trip to Puget Sound for a chance to sink their hooks into them.
Living only two years and weighing up to 15 pounds, pink salmon make their trip back to their spawning grounds during odd-numbered years.
Usually sold canned, pink salmon are great for smoking and many fishermen like this time to stock up on eggs and pull out the old curing recipes for other types of fishing.
Two years ago, the pink salmon ran in numbers close to 1.5 million and were so thick in the rivers that anglers were head butted while drift fishing. This year they are expected to accumulate to a run never heard of or rarely dreamed as large as this year. There are an estimated 5.9 million salmon making the trip this year.
Pink salmon are heavily spotted on tail and back. Only mature males develop the pronounced humped back associated with pinks. Normally ranging from 3-5 pounds, this year’s run is a large group with fish in the 8-12 pound range being pulled in.
Dash Point Dock, in Tacoma, is one of the last places they congregate in the lower Puget Sound before making their trip into the Puyallup River system. Anglers fill the pier, lined up along the rail, shoulder to shoulder, waiting for the next run to come through. As soon as you hear “FISH ON!” that’s the time to toss your rig into the water and join the fray.
Pink Buzz Bombs or just about anything pink, for that matter, will entice the humpy. When they hit the rivers, medium-sized pink corkies and yarn will be the most popular gear choice.
The Puyallup River, the most popular spot for the salmon, can fill to thousands of anglers standing shoulder to shoulder waiting for their turn to throw their line out.
Fishing will be hot in the Puyallup River in the next week or so.
Read your regs before you go, in most places the limit is four pinks with no minimum size. Single-pointed barbless hooks are mandatory. Snaggers will be prosecuted. Game wardens are always hot on the tail of the pink salmon anglers, ready to write a ticket.
The pinks are travelling through Marine Areas 5 through 11 now and will soon be seen making their way up the Fraser, the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Wallace and Skykomish rivers, as well as the Puyallup River in high numbers soon.
Anglers needn’t worry about using anything fancier than a simple light- to medium-weight rod and reel with nearly anything pink hanging off the line.
Make sure you cast ahead of the school and work the lure into the school of pinks; they tend to scatter if you cast into the middle of the cluster.
Dash Point Docks
If you decide to travel to the Dash Point Dock, get there early. The dock opens up at 7 a.m. and fills quickly to capacity. You can also don your waders and stand deep in the surf if the crowd gets to be too much for you.
It’s a wild ride up on the docks and a roaring good time. It seems as though every nation in the world is represented on the planks. You may not be able to have a conversation with the angler standing next to you, but everyone seems to know how to talk “fish” and there is a general camaraderie and a fair amount of good natured ribbing that goes along with the excitement of a big school passing through.
If you don’t have a large net or crab ring to bring to lower down into the water from the dock and haul up your catch. You will most likely find a friendly fisherman nearby who will be willing to help you land your fish.
If there aren’t any nets nearby — and you have to move quickly in landing these soft-mouthed fish, you can try a trick that Napavine native Spencer Haner perfected in his last trip to the waters.
“You look behind you to make sure no one’s in the way and yell ‘AIR MAIL!’ and then hurl the fish out of the water and onto the dock,” said Haner. “I haven’t lost one yet landing them that way.”
Don’t forget to bring a cooler. The pinks need to be cleaned and bled out and put on ice as soon as possible. The Dash Point Dock has a pair of convenient cleaning stations on the pier where you can clean up between pink runs.
The pink has a delicate flesh that does not freeze well and is best fresh. Grilled or smoked, this fish makes an excellent meal.
Good luck. Good fishing. And I’ll see you on the dock or on the river this week.
Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer based in Cinebar. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pink Salmon Run Size Forecast for the 2011 Return Year
Nooksack River, 68,078
Skagit River, 797,604
Hood Canal, 11,174
South Sound and the Puyallup River, 922,632
Strait of Juan de Fuca, 17,040