While not the most sought-after salmon in the state, Alaska pink salmon fishing can be an awful lot of fun. This is especially true for the kids, younger anglers, or those just getting started. Pink salmon make their way up into the waters of the Kenai River only on even-numbered years. By looking at the photo above of that big buck it’s easy to understand why they are called humpies.
These fish will start to enter the waters at the end of July in a mad dash that ends about the middle of September and they come up by the river by the millions.
Pink Salmon or humpback salmon are only available in the Kenai River on even-numbered years. Their semi-annual returns are hard to miss as literally millions of them arrive at once. These bountiful Pink Humpy Salmon fill the river for about three weeks and are available to catch from late July into September.
Like all fishing, Alaska pink salmon fishing should start with some basic knowledge of the fish. Salmon and their migrations are already fascinating and pink salmon only build on that fascination. Pink salmon have the shortest lifespan of all the Pacific salmon found in North America. They mature and complete their entire life cycle in two years.
This predictable two-year life cycle has created genetically distinct odd-year and even-year populations of pink salmon. Fish coming in odd years are unrelated to the individuals returning in even years. Odd-year and even-year populations do not interbreed with each other even when they return to the same spawning grounds. Many times individual streams will tend to have one of the populations (odd-year or even-year) producing more fish. However, in some streams both odd and even years produce about the same number of pink salmon. Occasionally this will shift, and the previously weak year will become the most abundant.
Pink salmon are further unique in that they are one of the fastest-growing salmon. Unlike the other species, which remain in the river for some period of time before migrating out to sea, the pink salmon head for the saltwater as soon as they are able as juvenile fry. They head for the saltwater, grow at an enormous rate, and return two years later, and only on even-numbered years.
Pink salmon are the smallest species of salmon weighing somewhere between 6-8 lbs but we often catch them in the 10 lb range.
As soon as pink salmon fry emerge from the gravel on the bottom of the river, they swim to the ocean. Once there, they begin feeding plankton, larval fishes, and occasional aquatic insects. After 18 months of feeding and growing in saltwater, they reach maturity and return to the river they were born to spawn between late June and mid-October.
Males develop an enormous hump on their back and an enlarged head with big teeth which they will use in fights with other males. The female picks a suitable nesting place and constructs a nest in the river bed by turning on her side and vigorously flexing her body and tail, digging a shallow hole. As she settles into the hole to deposit her eggs, a male joins her to fertilize them. A female may dig and lay eggs in up to four nests, covering her previous nests as she digs new ones. A group of nests is known as a redd. A female stays and defends her redd until she dies, usually within two weeks. Males leave to try and fertilize other eggs. The eggs incubate over winter and hatch in late winter or early spring.
The young salmon fry, or alevin, live under the gravel feeding off the yolk sac attached to their belly, and continue to grow until they are large enough to emerge and travel to the ocean.
Alaska pink salmon fishing on the Kenai River and Kasilof river can only happen on even-numbered years. The Kenai River and Kasilof River re home to an even-numbered year run. And when they show up, they come by the millions. There are actually so many of them that catching Silvers during an even-numbered year can be quite challenging because you are constantly catching these aggressive biters.
Pink salmon are the easiest of the 5 species to catch, one because of their sheer numbers, and two because they strike at almost anything put in front of them it seems. Spinners, spoons, flies, you name it, they’ll hit it. It makes for really great action. And like most salmon species in the world, the ones that come up the Kenai are some of the largest anywhere. The Kenai River has been home to the pink salmon world record several times over the years.
The action for pink salmon can be so high that we have clients simply interested in seeing how many of these fish they can catch and release in a single day and more than 100 in a full day of fishing has been attained more than once! And since these fish are so aggressive they make for an excellent introduction for youth anglers and those just getting started in fishing.
Trout fishing can be exceptionally good on those even-numbered years as well due to the sheer volume of salmon eggs floating in the river that didn’t make the gravel riverbed. Well-fed and fat these trout are truly trophy fish in the fall fishing season.