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While most salmon fishermen are focused on catching king salmon or coho salmon, pink salmon can be just as much fun to catch if you use lighter tackle and the correct lure. They congregate in bays and swim upriver in great numbers during the spawning season, which makes catching them a feeding frenzy if you’re in the right place at the right time. But what are the best pink salmon lures to use when it’s pink salmon season?
You’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’ll go over the best pink salmon lures for all situations. Whether you like to troll for pink salmon or cast spinners for them, we’ve got you covered. We’ll also quickly go over how to identify pink salmon, where you can catch them, and the proper tackle you should use. Soon you’ll be prepared to catch your limit of pink salmon no matter where you fish for them!
Best Pink Salmon Lures
How to Identify Pink Salmon
Pink salmon are smaller than most other species and can be identified by silvery-white sides and pale grey backs. They only grow to 5 lbs at maturation, which is much smaller than most other salmon species. During the spawning season, the males develop a large hump in their back which is where their nickname “humpies” comes from.
Pink salmon feed on plankton, small crustaceans, and baitfish while in the ocean. They live to be two years old before returning the freshwater to spawn. This means that in many locations, pink salmon spawn every other year. In the Northwest states of Oregon and Washington, this is every odd year.
Where Can I Catch Pink Salmon?
Pink salmon live throughout the pacific coastal waters, ranging from California up to Alaska. They also live around the coasts of Japan and Siberia. While they can be caught offshore while they’re feeding in the ocean, pink salmon are best targeted while fishing for them in rivers and bays during their spawning season.
Pink salmon also have populations in the Great Lakes due to recent stocking programs, and while they are not as common these the Great Lakes and Coho and Chinook salmon, they can be caught.
Author Note: During this period they’ll be the largest and most abundant due to their spawning migration. This occurs between June and mid-October depending on the fishery. The farther north you go, the earlier their spawning season.
What Tackle Should I Use for Pink Salmon?
We recommend using medium-light tackle when fishing for pink salmon. Since they usually inhabit relatively shallow water during the spawning season, spinning rods and reels will work best. Get a medium-sized saltwater spinning reel paired with a medium casting rod. This will keep catching the smaller pink salmon fun but won’t risk losing a larger coho or king salmon you might catch by accident.
For pink salmon fishing line, we recommend using 12 to 15 lb braided line. Braided line at this test will be extra thin and help with casting. We also like the added responsiveness of braided line compared to monofilament. While the test might be overkill for most pink salmon, we want to be prepared for the occasional pink salmon over 10 lbs or a coho/king salmon that takes your lure.
If you do decide to use braided lines, be sure to use a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader to keep the stealth factor needed for salmon in clear water.
When trolling bait casting reels and rods with line counters are a great way to keep track of how much line is out behind the boat, and the bait clickers on a line counting reel will immediately indicate a strike.
Best Pink Salmon Lures for Casting
Casting for pink salmon is our favorite way to catch them. The strikes are intense and it gives you the most flexibility of switching locations. We’ve found that many types of lures work well for pink salmon when casting, but there are several that stand out. The best pink salmon lures for casting are Marabou Twitch jigs, PLine Lazer Minnows, and Buzz Bombs all in pink.
Cast your lure in front of where the pink salmon are swimming and try and retrieve it directly through a school. This technique works well in both the early and late spawning season. You want to irritate the pink salmon into striking, as they often won’t be feeding anymore.
Author Note: Another approach is to drift fish with a bobber. Use a cork and yarn or Marabou Twitch jig with a 24” to 48” leader between the lure and the bobber. Cast your lure upstream from the pink salmon and let it drift through them. This lure also is great for Dolly Varden.
A similar approach works well with a salmon bead rig and roe bait later in the spawning season. Male pink salmon become very territorial later in the spawning season and will ash out at salmon eggs that gett to close to them. Cast your bait as close as you can to the fish and wait for a bite.
Best Pink Salmon Lures for Trolling
Trolling for pink salmon also works well in both the early and late spawning season. In the early season, the best pink salmon lures are Dick Nite spoons and small hoochie squids.
As with casting lures, pink salmon prefer going after pink lures. Tie them 13 to 16 inches behind a medium-sized flasher. We recommend using a downrigger while trolling your lures at 20 to 30 ft.
If you don’t have a downrigger, however, you can get away with using an 8 oz. sinker attached to your line 3 feet ahead of your flasher and lure rig. And don’t forget to mask any foreign smells with a fish scent like Smelly Jelly.
Troll your lures slowly! We like trolling at 1 to 2 mph max. Another option once you’ve identified a school of pink salmon close to the surface is to skip the downriggers and weight completely and troll at the surface. Aggressive pink salmon will strike at surface lures with vigor.
Author Note: Later in the spawning season, you should switch to back trolling further upriver. As far as late-season pink salmon trolling lures, we recommend switching to salmon roe and salmon bead rigs. Both work well in agitating aggressive pink salmon into biting.
Crankbaits also have a time and place when trolling for pink salmon. Pink salmon feed heavily on bait fish, and while lures like spoons might be more effective more often. crankbaits can at times outperform other lure types, just be sure you have trolling charts for the crankbaits you use so you know how far back you need to run them to reach a desired depth.
Best Pink Salmon Lures for Jigging
Another less common technique for catching pink salmon early in the salmon is jigging for them. The best lures for jigging for pink salmon are pink color Buzz Bombs and Crippled herrings in ¼ or ½ oz sizes. First find where the pink salmon are schooling with your fish finder, them pull your boat within ~30 feet of where they’re swimming.
Cast the above pink salmon lures out into the school and wait several seconds for the lures to sink down to where they are. Then begin retrieving by jerking your rod up several feet and letting the lure settle back down. Reel in about 6 feet of your line each time you do this to imitate a wounded baitfish.
Bucktail jig and jigs combined with soft plastics are are great choice for jigging as well, and if you don’t want to use live bait, or simply don’t have any live bait on any given day on the water, you can use imitations like GULP! minnows or soft plastic paddle tail lures.
What pink salmon don’t have in size, they make up for in tenacity and numbers. It’s not uncommon for us to have 2 or 3 pink salmon on at a time when we find a school that’s biting. We hope after reading this article, you now know the best pink salmon lures for all situations. Have another type of lure that works well for pink salmon we didn’t list? Let us know about it in the comments below.