Pink Years are… the best?

Believe it or not, the topic of pink salmon, aka “humpy”, is actually a bit of a controversial one here on the Kenai River.  Some people love them. Others wish they didn’t exist. The conundrum of the pink salmon is that although they invade the river by the millions and provide incredible non-stop action unlike any other, anglers will catch them whether they are trying to or not…. Lots of them.

I’m a self-proclaimed humpy lover, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. The infamous pink salmon has provided so many bent rods, genuine smiles, and overall epic & unforgettable days on the river… How could I do anything but admire and embrace them?

The first thing you need to know about pink salmon is that they only run in significant numbers on even years (i.e. 2022). They begin entering the tidewater of the Kenai River starting in late July, and the run builds through the middle/end of August.

The best time to catch them is during late July and the first half of August or so, when they are super-bright and fresh. These tidewater humpies are spunky and aggressive, and will readily attack baits, lures, and flies presented in a variety of ways. It’s not unusual for the boat to catch well over 100 fresh pink salmon in a single trip, and they inhabit the same waters as silver salmon, so the typical experience goes something like this : pink, pink, pink, pink, pink, pink, SILVER! And repeat.

Pink salmon don’t have the best reputation as being fantastic table fare, but they’re actually very underrated in my opinion. I don’t recommend keeping a full limit of pinks, which is 6 per day, but if you keep a few for the barbecue or have some smoked, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how tasty a fresh, tidewater pink salmon will be!

Perhaps the greatest gift that pink salmon provide to Kenai River anglers comes well after their tidewater presence. As fall begins to set in and the pink salmon begin their spawning activities, the trout take notice. And trout anglers do the same. The lower and middle sections of the Kenai experience an unbelievable trout fishery throughout the month of September on even years, fed primarily by spawning pink salmon. As the pinks die off in late September, the fattened up trout become prime targets on the middle river, providing some of the best trophy trout action you could ever hope for during the late fall. When you hit it right, trust me, you’ll spend every fall on even years hoping for a repeat performance.

So if you can’t appreciate catching 4-10 lb salmon one right after the other, then go ahead and avoid pink salmon fishing. And if you aren’t a fan of catching well-fed, trophy rainbow trout, then go ahead and avoid even years on the Kenai. I’ll be out there with a tight line, a big smile, and a huge appreciation for what the much maligned humpy provides. You’ve got an open invite to do the same 🙂

1 Comment

  1. Steve Wilson

    The 1st samon I ever caught was a Humpie, nearly 40 years ago. My wife and I were visiting her parents in Everett, WA. We lived in idaho at the time and I was having a great time fishing local rivers for smallmouth and having reasonable success on a 1-piece 5′ Quick rod and a Quick 110 Spinning reel/4 lb test. We arrived in Everett my my brother-in-law said we had to go to the river immediately! “I can’t even land these fish cause they are so strong” I just laughed and said I only have 4 lb. test! So we go down the Snohomish using spoons. He was hooking fish, fighting them like he was Rocky Balboa and losing every single one. Close to sunset, I finally hooked one out in the middle of the river. It made long runs up and down stream, but I finally turned him toward the bank. It was lower tide at the time and there was a small, submerged, sandy ledge right below me in maybe 18-inches of water. Once that fish was on that ledge, it went absolutely berserk! Luckily we landed that fish-I think we had a net, but I don’t recall. Biggest fish I had ever caught! I was stunned, but hooked for life. Turned out to be a bit over 10lbs before he hit the grill.


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