If you’ve never caught a salmon from a kayak before, then targeting pinks is a great place to start. And if you’ve been catching salmon from a kayak for years, then you’re likely looking forward to another pink season.
Equipping your Kayak with the right system will make your salmon fishing excursion even more successful. Being able to mount your rods and being able to change tactics on the fly because you are so organized is a big plus.
I’ll come right out and say it: Catching pinks is one of my guilty pleasures.
It’s almost so easy that I feel guilty, but I can’t stop myself from making an effort when the sun comes through because it’s just so much fun. Once there are pinks in the area, I put aside other fishing opportunities and break out the pink gear. Maybe I go home without a coho or king on those days, but I never go home without a smile on my face.
Pinks aren’t the type of salmon that will rip the rod out of your hand on the first run, nor will they put on a show with their acrobatics when facing a net. But they will give you a standup fight with short, powerful runs and almost violent direction changes all the way to the side of the kayak.
These are also schools of fish, so when you find a school, they’ll aggressively hit almost anything that gets in front of them. It almost seems like it’s a game they play amongst themselves to see which fish can be the first to grab the hook and run away. To put it simply, pinks are a blast to catch.
Techniques For Kayak Salmon Fishing
From downrigger or diver trolling to casting spoons or spinners, even jigs will work in salmon kayak fishing. Unusual methods, such as dragging a fly on the surface behind your kayak, can be highly effective in the right circumstances.
Your typical salmon trolling rod will work just fine, but bring along a light spinning set-up, and it gets even more fun. While you’re at it, toss a fly rod in the kayak. I’m not purposely trying to be vague to protect my secret method of catching pinks; believe me when I tell you that just about any method can work.
For me, variety is what makes catching them so much fun. Once I’ve mastered one method of catching pinks, I switch tactics and gear, and it’s like learning to catch a new species all over again.
The key to pinks is getting your presentation in front of them and giving them something they can fit inside their mouth. These fish primarily feed on small squid and krill, so they’re not typically going to chase down a large rolling herring. But if that spinning herring just happens to pass through the middle of a school, all bets are off. However, the best odds are finding a school and dragging a small- to medium-sized spoon through it.
Don’t limit your gear to spoons, as many pinks are taken on the standard dodger and hoochie combo. Did I mention the best color? Why, pink, of course! Just stroll into your local fishing tackle store in late August of an odd numbered year, and you’ll see the aisles loaded with pink tackle.
Why do pinks love Pink? Perhaps it’s a highly visible color in our Northwest waters, or perhaps it reminds them of their usual food sources back in the North Pacific. At any rate, pink is here to stay as the color of choice for catching these fish.
But don’t be surprised if these fish pick up your green spoon – there are no hard rules to fishing pinks. Don’t want to stock a whole new set of tackle for a single species? Just grab some pink diamond tape and cover a selection of your spoons and spinner, and you’ll be set.
Now Where Do You Find These Pink Salmon?
With a run of over 6 million forecasts back to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound and many more headed for the Fraser, they’re not hard to find. When they show up in late July, they’ll congregate at the headlands, making occasional forays into shallow water early in the morning before going deeper during the day and losing interest in playful activities such as playing “grab the hook.”
Morning is the time to be on the water for almost any form of salmon fishing in Puget Sound, but with pinks comes another added benefit. Glass-calm water well before the noises of civilization build for the day makes for the perfect fishing conditions.
Tracking down a school from a kayak takes a couple of senses working in unison. First, scan the water for rolling fish. Pinks will rise to the surface with a brief roll or leave a fin or tip of the tail out of the water for several seconds before descending. The wakes left behind from these surfacing salmon will be almost imperceptibly small unless you are closer than a hundred yards away, so rather than scan the far horizon, limit your gaze to the water within a football field’s length and keep a sharp eye out.
Second, stay quiet and listen for light splashing, which might even come from behind you, so stay alert. These fish don’t make their presence known by making a big splash like chum salmon, but they do occasionally slosh a bit of water around when they surface. When the Sound is quiet early in the morning, it is a lot easier to hear a school rising to the surface.
When you hear or see the signs of a rising school, it’s time to spring into action before the fish descend and move off in another direction. If possible, try not to spook the fish by running straight through the middle of the school; instead, try to work around its edges as much as possible and allow the fish to stay on the surface without feeling threatened.
If you are trolling a spoon, make a wide sweeping turn well outside the edge of the school so your presentation skims the perimeter. If you’re ready with a casting spoon or jig, adjust your course so your kayak will glide toward one side of the school and let the momentum of your remaining forward speed bring you within casting distance of the fish.
Don’t rush towards splashing with the paddle or fins; the fish will sense danger and disperse. A smooth and stealthy approach by kayak to surfacing salmon can make all the difference.
My Favorite Technique
It is to troll a spoon on a small diver or a couple of ounces of lead and keep it just a few dozen yards behind my kayak. When I spot a school, I make a determination whether trolling the spoon around the edge is my best option or if casting will produce better results. If the latter, I quietly retrieve my trolling line, fix the glide of my kayak to pass within casting distance of the edge of the school, and glide in for my cast.
When I’m within range, I make a long arcing cast toward the edge of the school, allow my spoon or jig to sink with just enough tension on the line to feel a pick-up, count to five so that my presentation sinks a few yards below the surface, then retrieve.
One jig that became my go-to for pinks a couple years ago is a one-ounce marabou in pink, of course. On a light spinning outfit, this is an easy jig to cast, and it seldom gets fouled in the rigging of my kayak or on the rod eyelets. I usually reel the jig right to the tip of the rod; the round head fits perfectly into the tip eyelet, and the hook is held clear of tangling into that last couple of inches of the rod.
When I’m ready to cast, I pull a foot or two of a line from the reel, and the jig falls away from the tip at the perfect length for a stealthy cast.
The key to working a marabou-style jig is to give it the action it needs to attract a fish with a quick little twitch of the rod. The twitch should be a quick, jerky motion, but the rod tip shouldn’t move more than about 18 inches. It’s almost like you’re trying to set the hook on a very small fish with every twitch. Expect the strike as the jig falls. If the line comes taut at an unusually fast speed, don’t wait to feel the fish; just haul back and set the hook.
The window of opportunity for pinks in the salt is always too brief. I would love to have them around in their bright chrome state and ready to play with me late into fall on Puget Sound, but they are fish on a mission, and unfortunately, almost as soon as they arrive, they are moving upriver and away from the salt.
Fishing pink salmon from a kayak in freshwater can be even more fun than pursuing them in the salt. In the rivers, there is typically less water for them to hide in, and they’re easier to spot rolling on the surface. Although the quality of the meat takes a serious downward turn, they’re still a blast to catch, and by now, the famous humps of the males are fully formed. If you find the right hole in the river, it can be packed with pinks, and they are not so fast to move on as they do in the salt.