Pink Salmon in Seattle on Puget Sound

Urban fishing for pinks in Elliot Bay, Seattle.

Beach and boat fly fishing for pink salmon

It happens every two years, a massive pink salmon migration to the salt waters and the accompanying river systems of of western Washington's Puget Sound. Often called humpies, these salmon are returning in record numbers with somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 million plus of these fish headed to Puget Sound. It is a number that seems way out there, unattainable or inconceivable, but it's not. It is a reality and for fly anglers, chasing pinks in Puget Sound is one of Washington state's top flyfishing options.

These fish range in size from 3 to 7 pounds with the occasional one getting up close to 9 or 10 pounds. Probably the most exciting aspect to pursuing this species here, versus other well known areas, is that in Puget Sound, they are still in saltwater and in prime shape. And they are actively feeding on baitfish. These fish don't look like those you catch in rivers, the ones that look like they've swallowed a plate and are dark and somewhat dreary. A lot of these fish are bright and strong.

As with most salmon, these fish can be fickle. If the fly is too long or short, too bright or dull, big or small, they will deny it. So, come with a variety of flies but keep them simple. From the beach, anglers should be armed with a stout 6 to 8 weight rod and shooting heads—an intermediate Type 3 head is about perfect. Retrieve the fly with a moderate pace, not too fast or too slow and if you don't get any action, change the retrieve until you find what works. If you have a switch rod you may want to use it, especially if fishing from the beach—you'll be able to outdistance the single-hand guys and pick up some extra fish. Stripping baskets are nearly essential to keep your line out of the kelp and other flotsam.

Whether you are on the beach or in a boat, you have to find the fish but sometimes just knowing where they likely are and being patient is the ticket. Those in boats can more easily travel to more places and stay with the fish once found, but being on the beach doesn't mean you aren't going to catch any. Do your homework, ask a few questions of those in the know, and time your arrival at a given beach with a moving tide. Picnic Point, Kayak Point, Point No Point, Brown's Point and Bush Point are all great access points from the top to bottom of Puget Sound and there are hundreds more. Experience has proven that the time of day doesn't necessarily matter with pinks, although early starts will lock in your spot on busy beaches. Really, it's all about being in the right place at the right time and when that combination occurs, you'll really appreciate the smallest Pacific salmon for what it is, abundant and a blast to cast for.

Dave McCoy lives in Seattle and runs Emerald Water Anglers. Check out his site and book a trip with the best