Pink Salmon

large male pink salmon heading for spawning grounds

Pink salmon are the smallest of the Pacific salmon found in North America weighing on average between 3 and 5 pounds, with an average length of 20 to 25 inches. Young pink salmon are completely silver without any dark vertical bars or spots. In the ocean, adults are bright greenish-blue on top and silvery on its sides. They have very small scales and pink flesh.

Pink salmon opens mouth after woman angler caught it on the fly

As adult pinks return to fresh water, they develop a lot of large black spots on their back and all over their tail. When pinks approach their spawning streams, males turn brown to black on their back with a bright white belly. Females have a bright white belly but turn an olive green with dusky bars or patches that can be lavender or a dark gold. By the time males start to spawn, they have developed a very large hump, and hooked jaws called a kype.

A large school of pink salmon in Alaska stream staging for upstream spawn

Pink salmon have the shortest lifespan of all the 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.

Pink salmon female in bright silver

Pink salmon generally spawn in small rivers near the coast, and in estuaries near the mouths of rivers. Most pink salmon migrate less than 40 miles up a river to spawn. However, in Alaska they have been known to go greater distances in larger river systems, such as the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Nushagak. In Southcentral Alaska, pink salmon have been documented going as far as 130 miles up the Susitna River. On the Mulchatna River, pink salmon have gone as far as 250 miles upstream before spawning.

Pink salmon range along the Pacific rim of Asia and in North America. While pink salmon in North America have been found as far south as north-central California, they do not reproduce in significant numbers below the Puget Sound in Washington State. They occur to the west from the Lena River in Siberia and as far south as Korea and Kyushu, Japan.