If you want to see what summer salmon season once looked like in Seattle, walk our local beaches this July and August. You’ll find anglers crowding every point, tossing their lures and flies into the surf with hopes of hooking a pink salmon. In an age of decline, pinks are one species defying the downward trend.
Once viewed as the redheaded stepchild of Pacific salmon because of their diminutive size and mild flesh, pinks are now hotly anticipated. More than 6 million will return to Puget Sound rivers this summer, an amazing figure considering the run was one-tenth this size little more than a decade ago. Biologists don’t know why the fish are flourishing as other species continue to struggle, notably chinook and steelhead, but it might have something to do with the pink’s two-year life cycle from egg to spawning adult, which is the shortest of all salmon and possibly an advantage in today’s compromised environment. Because of this life cycle, pinks only return to spawn every other year.
Puget Sound once swarmed with salmon—and salmon fishermen. Now we can get a glimpse of that abundance in odd-numbered years. At the peak of the run, in late August, the favored fishing spots will be a carnival of anglers hooking salmon left and right, everyone cheering each other on as another silver slab is hauled onto the beach. Plenty of kids will be among them, wielding their Snoopy rods to catch a pink, which can be hooked mere yards from shore and—averaging 4–5 pounds—landed by even a determined preschooler. I know this because I’ve been taking my kids fishing for pinks since they could walk. Remember, single barbless hooks only.
Once your pink is in the bag, be sure to keep it on ice and fillet it as soon as possible. Though not as deeply red-fleshed or laden with healthful omega-3 fatty acids as other species, such as chinook and sockeye, the meat of a pink fresh from the salt is eminently barbecue worthy, and it smokes up especially nicely when brined first in a mixture of salt, brown sugar and garlic. I still have a few chunks of smoked pink salmon left over from the last run in my freezer—an appreciated hors d’oeuvre at a dinner party or a truly local protein addition to a school lunchbox.
Get Langdon's recipe for smoked pink salmon.