Pier Pinks

by Jason Brooks, August 01, 2017

Pink Salmon fever is an ailment that occurs every other year and sometimes the disease hits harder for some than for others. Usually those that get the “fever” the most are those that just like to catch fish and a lot of them regardless of size or stature. What also makes fishing for pinks such a craze is the fact that just about anyone who can cast a rod can be very successful. With 1,150,000 pink salmon entering Puget Sound and heading for local rivers it’s hard not to become infected with the fever, even though this year is one of the lowest predicted runs in several years. Those that like to eat pink salmon, a very popular fish to can or smoke, agree that they are best if caught in the salt water. The small salmon prefers to spawn in the lower stretches of rivers and often turn from small silver bullets to a shade of green and red with the large hump and profuse jaw by the time they leave brackish waters. For those that are bank bound it might seem that fishing for them in the salt isn’t an option, unless of course you head to one of the many public piers where the fish that like to hang close to shore will swim right by and offer you a chance at some fresh salmon for the smoker.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lists 58 public piers from the Strait of Juan de Fuca all the way into the deep southern portions of Puget Sound, 59 if you count the Spokane Street Bridge over the Duwamish which is expecting 119,000 pinks back just to that river system. Most of the piers offer bathrooms, lights for early morning or late evening fishing, handicap access, public parking and even fish cleaning stations. Keep in mind that some of the piers are part of a county park system so there might be a fee to access the pier or to park. You can find the entire list of public piers at the WDFW website

Park hours, tide changes and run destinations also factor in to which Pier you might want to fish. For example, during the 2013 run I took my youngest son, Ryan, to Dash Point State Park that offers a fishing pier. We went in the middle of the day during the incoming tide as the fish we were targeting are heading to the Puyallup and Nisqually rivers, which this year are expecting back 382,000 and 21,400 pinks respectively. The fish migrate with the tide so as the water began to flow south in Puget Sound they went right by the Pier. Because this was the middle of an August day the parking lot was full. If we had found a spot then a Discover pass would have been required. Instead we had to park several blocks away in a residential neighborhood that normally doesn’t allow Pier parking. Luckily I found a lady working in her yard that was kind enough to let us park in her driveway, once she saw Ryan who was only seven at the time (it’s always a good idea to take a kid fishing, this time it paid off in a parking spot). Finally making our way to the Pier I immediately noticed it was packed.

Pier fishing can be a true combat sport, making the banks of the Puyallup and Duwamish Rivers look like a kindergarten class at recess. However, since most Piers are part of a park system or other public access site, like at a few ferry terminals or tourists areas such as the piers along Seattle’s waterfront, the crowds are a bit more corrigible. Techniques are fairly simple. A long rod helps in making a distant cast and most people used an 8 ½ foot to 10 foot spinning rod. Some people pitched lures like buzz bombs, and spoons. Other’s used 3/8 ounce to ½ ounce jigs, but all of the offerings were in hot pink. The fishing is basic. Cast and retrieve, or cast, twitch and retrieve. After a while it might seem boring until a school of fish swim by, then it is pure pandemonium. Multiple hook-ups occur and the fish cross lines causing a few arguments but for the most part the fish are controlled since heavy gear is often used.

Sight fishing from a Pier is a blast. You can see the school of fish coming and you need to time the cast just right so not to spook the fish. It is best to cast over the school of fish out as far as you can and then retrieve right through the middle of the school. Sounds easier than it really is as you need to keep your lure or jig close to the surface where the fish are. This means that if you cast too early your offering will either be under the fish or you will have to reel it in as fast as you can and re-cast trying to time the passing fish. If you cast too late then the fish will swim by before you can get your lure in front of their face to entice the strike. Then, just as you make the perfectly timed cast someone cast right into the middle of the school which turns them around and it all starts over again as the fish make their way in circles trying to migrate.

One of the most ingenious things I have seen in a long time happened the first time I went Pier fishing for pinks. As a guy hooked a fish and fought it to the Pier I thought there was no way that fish would stay on the barbless hook as he tried to hoist it up about 30 feet to the deck. That’s when I noticed his buddy lowering a crab ring to the water. The guy fighting the fish pulled it over the top of the sunken ring and the other guy netted the fish using the crab ring! I shook my head and wondered who thought of that trick first and how they truly changed the way to land a salmon from a pier.

Pink salmon might not have the best reputation for eating after they hit the fresh water but in the salt they are really good to barbecue, can, bake, and of course smoke. All that fish for them in the salt agree that it is imperative to bleed the fish and then get them onto ice as fast as possible. A lot of the piers have fish cleaning stations that are stainless steel tables with a water spout. After catching a pink simply cut the gills and run the water through them until the water runs clear, clean the fish and throw it into a cooler of ice. If you really want to cool the fish down add some salt water to the ice and make a slush, this is used by commercial fisherman while out fishing in the ocean as the salt water actually drops the temperature of the ice water slush to below freezing. This will ensure a great eating fish.

So, if you are bank bound this summer find a public pier and catch some pinks. Take along a long rod, pink lures and some patience. Sunscreen helps as well as a 7 year old kid to help find some parking. You don’t have to have a boat to enjoy some fresh and bright pink salmon this summer. Public piers offer a way to beat the Pink Salmon Fever, or maybe cause you to be infected a little more than the next person as seeing a school of pinks approaching the pier, while staring down from above give a whole new meaning to pink salmon craze.


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