Know Your Fish - Pink Salmon

Pink Salmon Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)

Ocean Phase Identification Characteristics:

  • Typical silvery sides common to all Pacific salmon
  • Bright steel-blue to blue-green on back
  • White belly
  • Numerous large black oval spots on the upper sides, back, and tail
  • Scales are small compared to the other Pacific salmon
  • Mature males are red to yellow on the sides of body, blocked with brown, dark along the back with white belly

    Spawning Phase Identification Characteristics:

  • Males may exhibit dark hue to back and red brown-green blotches on sides
  • Males develop typical hooked snout
  • Males develop a high hump immediately behind the head
  • Females are olive-green on the sides of the body with dusky strips and white belly
    Identification Characteristics:

  • Metallic-blue or green on the back, silver on the sides
  • Numerous large black oval spots on the upper sides, back, and tail
  • Scales are small compared to the other Pacific salmon
  • Mature males are red to yellow on the sides of body, blocked with brown, dark along the back with white belly
  • On spawning migration, males develop a high hump immediately behind the head
  • Females are olive-green on the sides of the body with dusky strips and white belly
    Records:

  • Length to 30 inches
  • Freshwater record: 14.86 lbs, Alex Minerich, Skykomish River, Snohomish Co., 9/30/01
  • Saltwater record: 11.56 lbs, Jeff Bergman, Possession Point, Island Co., 8/25/01
    Pink salmon are a common catch for Washington anglers on odd-numbered years. With a two-year life cycle, shorter than the other salmon, they are the smallest of the Pacific salmon, averaging 3 to 6 pounds at maturity and seldom topping the 10-pound mark.

    The adult pinks leave the ocean in the late summer and early fall and usually spawn in streams that are not fed by lakes. Typically their spawning grounds are only a short distance from the ocean. In the winter following spawning, the fry migrate directly to the ocean as soon as they hatch. Of all the salmon, except for chums, pinks spend the least amount of time in fresh water. They spend their entire two years in the rich ocean feeding grounds.

    Once they begin to spawn the male pinks develop a prominent hump in front of the dorsal fin like that of the sockeye salmon. For this reason, pink salmon are commonly called "humpies". Males also develop a characteristic elongated snout and large teeth. The females do not change their body shape. During their spawning run, both males and females darken from their bright silvery ocean color to a pale slate, brownish, or greenish-gray on the back and sides with a white to yellowish belly. The darkish colors of the spawning pinks makes them difficult to see as they have a tendency to blend in with the stream colors.

    Both male and female pinks can be identified by the large, oblong or oval spots on both the upper and lower portion of their tail and by their very small scales. Trolling with herring or any of the standard salmon offerings will take pinks from salt water, but hot colors tend to work best. The same general rule seems to apply when fishing for pinks in fresh water.

    For more information about Washington State's game fish you can download these PDF files: Pacific salmon identification (1446KB), trout and salmon identification (560KB), and selected game fish (2553KB). To read these files you will need the free Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader that you can obtain from Adobe's PDF Reader web page.



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