Written by Jason Swingen, Updated

Getting Started In Pink Salmon Fishing

If you have never caught pink salmon before, don’t be intimidated! Pink salmon are extremely fun to catch, they are abundant, fairly easy to find, and they fight extremely hard for their size! They are a great species for beginners to get started into fly fishing as well as great for advanced anglers to fine-tune their skills.

Pinks run in most of the north shore tributaries every fall. Start looking for large schools of them during the month of September! I’ll go over a few tips and tactics for catching pink salmon below!

Identify a Pink Salmon

Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) are also referred to as “Humpies” because of the large hump on their back (more predominant on males). The upper half of their bodies are greenish/olive color with dark oval spots, while the lower have is mostly white. They have small scales and a slightly forked tail.

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How Big Do They Get?

Most pink salmon are typically 12 to 16 inches long and weigh a couple pounds each. They don’t get as big as the steelhead that will enter the same rivers, but they do fight extremely hard for their size! The biggest pink salmon caught in Minnesota was 4 lbs 8 oz and 23.5 inches long. It was caught in the Cascade River in 1989.

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Can I Keep Any?

Pinks are regulated through the MNDNR just lake any other salmon. You can catch and keep a combination of any 5 salmon (chinook, coho, pink), with a minimum length of 10”.

Although, not thought of as one of the best eating fish, you shouldn’t feel too bad about keeping a few since pink salmon will not live after spawning, so keeping a limit of pinks should not hurt the overall population.

When Can I Catch Them?

Short Answer, September.

Although, depending on river temperature and flow they can run starting as early as the middle of August. Unlike steelhead that run up the river to spawn then travel back down to the lake, pink salmon die after spawning. Often they will stay in the rivers but will start to decay. This usually occurs at the end of September into early October.

Pink Salmon only spawn every other year. After they were first introduced into Lake Superior they only spawned on even years (2016, 2018), but today there are schools that have gotten off-track so there is currently a run of pink salmon every year!

Where Can I Catch Them?

You can catch Pink Salmon on almost any river on the North Shore that flow to Lake Superior. All the way from Duluth into Canada pink salmon will eventually make a run. Usually, they start running in rivers further north and eventually make their way into the rivers closer to Duluth. I’ve personally caught pink salmon in the Lester, Sucker, Stewart, Split Rock, Baptism, Temperance, and the Cascade.

North Shore Lake Superior Rivers
Image from thepinsta.com

Yeah, But Where In The Rivers?

Once you find a river on the north shore that you want to fish you still have to find the fish. It is usually a good idea to work your way from the mouth of the rivers and working your way up the river. These fish aren’t the best jumpers, so if you get to a decently sized waterfall there is a good chance they haven’t made it past that point.

The water in the fall in much lower and clearer than in the spring. Given the fall water conditions and the fact that pinks will often school together and swim close to the surface makes it fairly easy to target them. However, don’t overlook deep pools and seams that may hold these fish as well as other species that may be in the rivers as well like brook, brown, and rainbow trout, or even coho salmon!

You are not just searching for good looking water, but for the fish themselves. Their bright white bellies tend to give them away as they dart around close to the top of the water often towards the tailout of bigger holes. So keep your eyes open!

What Kind of Fishing Gear Do I Need?

You can catch pinks on nearly any type of fishing equipment. The most popular method is fly-fishing, but you can catch them on spinning gear as well.

Spinning Gear

These fish can sometimes be very aggressive and will hit in-line spinners, and small stickbaits. If you see a school try not to throw right on top of them, but lead them by a few feet. Any light to medium action trout or walleye rod will work. I would recommend using 4-6 lb mono or fluorocarbon line.

Fly Gear

My favorite and probably the most common way to catch pink salmon in with a fly rod. The standard 9ft 5wt fly rod like this Redington Classic Trout is perfect for pink salmon on the north shore rivers. These fish will still put a bend in an 8wt, but they you are still able to pull them in with a 3wt. so don’t feel like you need another rod to target these fish.


If you have targeted other species with the fly rod, the process is very similar and you can catch them using a large variety of techniques.


The most productive flies for me have been small nymphs (size 12 to 20). This includes frenchies, pheasant tails, copper johns, prince nymphs, scuds, and zebra midges. These seem to work better in slightly slower and clearer water. If you don’t tie your own flies check out some local fly shops from my latest North Shore Resources Article, or check out this set of flies from Amazon.

If you are fishing in fast dirty water try fishing an egg pattern, like a small glo bug or bead in your typical steelhead colors, such as pink, orange, chartreuse, and red.

Learn how to tie a Frenchie on my YouTube Channel!


If you aren’t getting any bites using nymphs, or are looking to step up the size of fish you are catching, try throwing a streamer in front of them. I have had good luck using a size 8 bead-headed wooly buggers in black, olive, or pink. Even though they come up to the surface, it is best to fish either a weighted streamer or some type of sinking line in slack water and tailouts. The weight or sinking line will allow you to strip your streamer in short quick strips to entice a big humpie to bite!

That’s it. Time to hit the water! If you have more questions feel free to comment below.


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