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Pink Salmon fish identification, its habitats, characteristics, fishing methods.

Pink salmon spends 18 months at sea after which spawning migration to the natal river or stream occurs. Because the species is less certain of its homing they can migrate to streams as much as 600 km far from natal streams. Anadromous in rivers and small streams from northern California north to the arctic waters of Alaska, Canada, and the Soviet Union. Washington State appears to be at the southern end of the range for streams that support consistently exploitable spawning runs of pink salmon. Populations in Asia occur as far south as Hondo Island in Japan. Pink salmon have been introduced into the Great Lakes.
    Mostly sold canned but also utilized fresh, smoked, and frozen; also valued for caviar, especially in Japan; eaten steamed, fried, broiled, boiled, microwaved, and baked. It is called the "bread and butter" fish in many Alaskan coastal fishing communities because of its importance to commercial fisheries and thus to local economies. Pink salmon also contribute substantially to the catch of sport anglers and subsistence users in Alaska.
    The pink salmon is the smallest of the Pacific salmon found in North America with an average weight of about 3.5 to 4 pounds and average length of 20-25 inches. The lifespan of the pink salmon is a short 2 years. Pink salmon rely heavily on freshwater and near shore habitats during their life cycle and spawn primarily in the lower reaches of coastal rivers.

Pink Salmon Fishing
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Pink salmon or Humpback salmon, Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, (from a Russian name ГОРБУША), also known as Humpy Salmon, Dog Salmon and Hone Salmon is a species of anadromous fish in the Salmon family. It is the smallest and most abundant of the Pacific salmon, native to Pacific and Arctic coastal waters from northern California to the Mackenzie River, Canada, and to the west from the Lena River in Siberia to Korea.


Pink salmon are the smallest of the true salmon. Their body is fusiform, streamlined, somewhat laterally compressed; moderately, a noticeable deeper in breeding males. Mouth terminal, normally very little oblique but greatly deformed in breeding males, with lower jaw enlarged, turned up at tip, mouth unable to close. Their adipose fin is large and pelvic fins with axillary process. The scales are small. Counting the number of scales in the row just above the lateral line can be helpful in separating the pink salmon from other salmon species. The pink salmon has 169 or more scales in this row, compared to fewer than 155 on other species.

Distinguish characteristics

  • 10 15 dorsal soft rays
  • 13 17 anal soft rays
  • 63 72 vertebrae
  • White mouth with black gums
  • No teeth on the tongue
  • Enlarged lower jaw
  • V-shaped tail
  • Small scails
  • Large oval-shaped black spots on their back and tail
Pink Salmon characteristics

    Fish in the sea are steel blue to blue-green on the back, silver on the sides and white on the belly; large oval spots present on the back, adipose fin and both lobes of the caudal fin and the upper sides of the body. Pink salmon distinguished by the presence of these spots on the back and on both lobes of the caudal fin; the young have no parr marks.
Pink Salmon Spawning

Spawning Phase Distinguishing characteristics:

Breeding males become dark on the back, red with brownish green blotches on the sides; breeding females are similar but less distinctly colored. Breeding males also develop pronounced hump on their back, elongated jaws, the upper one longer and hooked downward. In addition, a noticeable hump appears on the back between the head and dorsal fin. Approaching the spawning stream, the males turn brown or black on their backs with a white belly. Females become olive green with a light-colored belly.

    Returning adult fish are bright, steel blue on top surfaces with silvery sides and large black spots on the back and tail fin. Juvenile pink salmon are entirely silvery, without the dark vertical bars, or parr marks, of the young of other salmon species. The flesh is orange, and changes to pink in color during the canning process. Pinks are the most numerous of the Pacific salmon. The pink salmon is the smallest of the Pacific salmon found in North America with an average weight of about 3.5 to 4 pounds and average length of 20-25 inches.
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    Pink salmon are coldwater fish with a preferred temperature range of 5 to 15C, an optimal temperature of 10C, and an upper incipient lethal temperature of 25.8C. The species is native to Pacific and Arctic coastal waters from the Sacramento River in northern California to the Mackenzie River in Canada; and in the west from the Lena River in Siberia to Korea. Populations in Asia occur as far south as Hondo Island in Japan. Pink salmon were introduced into the Great Lakes; this is the only location where they have been successfully introduced into an entirely fresh water environment. In the Great Lakes, they are most common in Lake Superior but are rare in Lake Michigan.
    Pink salmon are anadromous in the ocean. The pink salmon fry feed on plankton, larval fishes, and occasional insects. As the pink salmon reaches adulthood it will begin eating squid and small fish such as herring.


    Pink salmon in their native range have a strict two year life cycle, thus odd and even-year populations do not interbreed. Adult pink salmon enter spawning streams from the ocean, usually returning to the water course, or race, where they originated. Spawning occurs between late June and mid-October.
Pink Salmon Spawning Run Pink salmon spawn in coastal streams and some longer rivers, and may spawn in the intertidal zone or at the mouth of streams if hyporheic freshwater is available. Shallow riffles where flowing water breaks over coarse gravel or cobble-size rock and the downstream ends of pools are favored spawning areas. Spawning grounds are located on the main river channels and lower reaches of major tributaries in the shallows with clean water and gravel and pebbles soil mixed with sand.

    The female selects the site and digs a trough-shaped nest, called a redd, sweeping away the soil with the caudal peduncle and fins. During 5 hours female making a big groove in the river bottom. During the construction of nests around the females there is one major and five minor males. The dominant male performs a series of ritual courtship movements. When the female has already dug a nest and is ready to spawn, it lies in the constructed nest head against the tide, and her anus is located above the deepest part of the nest. Subsequently, the female covers the newly-deposited zygotes, again with thrusts of her tail against the gravel at the top of the redd. The female lays from 1000 to 2000 eggs in several clutches within the redd. They are immediately fertilized by one or more males. The process is commonly repeated several times until all the female's eggs have been released. Females lay eggs in 1-3 nests and covered them by further digging action with gravel to a depth of 30 - 35 cm. As a result they created a "spawning knoll" oval in shape and 1,5 by 0,6 meters in size.
    After spawning, both males and females soon die, usually within two weeks. Females guard their redds until death, which comes within days of spawning. In dense populations, a major source of mortality for embryos is superposition of redds by later-spawning fish.
Pink Salmon Fry The eggs hatch after 45-90 days after fertilization, from December to February, depending on water temperature and remain in the nest, feeding on yolk sac reserves. Most of larvae emerging from the gravel occurs only at night, from 12 to 3 hours. The juveniles emerge from the gravel during March and late April and quickly migrate downstream to estuaries at about one-quarter gram and 30-35 mm in length. Right after the hatch all the larvae are females, and right before leaving the ground in about half of individuals are changing the sex to male.

    The alevins, or young fry, feed on the attached yolk sac material continuing to grow and develop. In late winter or spring, the fry swim up out of the gravel and migrate downstream into salt water. The emergence and outmigration of fry is heaviest during hours of darkness and usually lasts for several weeks before all the fry have emerged. Pink Salmon Fry

Pink Salmon Fry     Following entry into salt water, the juvenile pink salmon move along the beaches in dense schools near the surface, feeding on plankton, larval fishes, and occasional insects. Predation is heavy on the very small, newly emerged fry, but growth is rapid. By fall, at an age of about 1 year, the juvenile pink salmon are 4 to 6 inches long and are moving into the ocean feeding grounds in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands areas.

High seas tag-and-recapture experiments have revealed that pink salmon originating from specific coastal areas have characteristic distributions at sea which are overlapping, nonrandom, and nearly identical from year to year. The ranges of Alaska pink salmon at sea and pink salmon from Asia, British Columbia, and Washington overlap each other.
    The fish achieve sexual maturity in their second year of life. They return to freshwater in the summer or autumn as two year old adults. Pink salmon mature in 2 years which means that odd-year and even-year populations are essentially unrelated. Frequently in a particular stream the other odd-year or even-year cycle will predominate, although in some streams both odd- and even-year pink salmon are about equally abundant. Occasionally cycle dominance will shift, and the previously weak cycle will become most abundant. Pink and chum salmon sometimes interbreed in nature to form the hybrid known as the miko salmon; the hybrids are reproductively sterile.
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Fishing Methods

Pinks are excellent fighters on light tackle. Most pink salmon spawn within a few miles of the ocean, but are common in many of the fresh water streams listed on this site. Better to use small to ultra-light sized lures. Since pinks are often mixed in with silvers, chums, and reds, I often hook them when going after one of the other salmon species.
Huge number of Pink salmon come into Alaskan waters each year. Very popular spot to fish for Pinks is the Russian River where is flows into the Kenai. The Kenai River is glacier fed and a cloudy green color, but in the stream you can actually see the fish, especially with Polarized Sunglasses and you can make your casts to specific fish.
    When fishing for Pink salmon in the Kenai River, with its powerful flow of water, minimum 20 lbs line on a action rod is a good choice. In the smaller streams, 8 to 10 foot casting rod medium action with 12 pound line.

Fly Fishing.
    Virtually any old fly rod will do the trick. As far as the fish testing the quality of your tackle, think of Pink Salmon as a four pound white fish. These fish do not have much of a fight to them. Generally a five or six weight rod is great. Some anglers prefer sinking tip lines, and some use floating lines. As far as leader length is concerned, anywhere between 15-20ft. of eight to ten pound test line will do the trick. As far as the fly is concerned, just about anything pink will serve you well. Pink streamers or pink wooly buggers pink work very well. Other bright colors such as red or purple will work as well. Use your imagination. Hook size should be no. 4 or 6. For the below average fly caster one of the benefits is the line does not have to go out far. (or straight) 20 to 30 foot cast will work. Once your line is out, at a medium speed strip your offering back towards you.

Spin Casting.
    Spin casting is another way of attracting Pink Salmon. Using this method, there really is very little skill required. Once again, just about any old rod will do. Preferably a light or an ultra light rod between 5-6 ft. in length Any old coffee grinder loaded with 8-10 lb. test line will do the trick. At the end of your line attach a spoon. Once again, these fish are not very picky. A 1/4 -3/4 oz silver or brass spoon with some pink or bright red on it will work very well. Gibbs Crocodiles (Crocs) and Dick Nites have worked for me well in the past. Size of the spoon is not critical. Cast out and with a slow retrieve you will attract fish.
    Fishing for Pink Salmon is usually not the favorite fishery of any seasoned angler. However, for those who dont get out as much, or are looking to get someone who has had very limited exposure to angling exposed to the sport, this is one of the best opportunities anywhere.
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