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Pink salmon

Pink Salmon Illustration

Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri ©

Oncorhynchus gorbuscha - scientific name


(Non-Native Fish) Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin, light mouth and gums with dark tongue, large oval black spots on tail and back (lake-run mostly silver), 13 to 19 rays in anal fin.


Pink salmon are rarely caught by boat anglers in the Great Lakes; most that are taken are caught while ascending streams along Lake Superior and northern areas of lakes Huron and Michigan.  Streamers and nymphs account for the bulk of the pinks taken in the St. Marys rapids, the most outstanding pink salmon fishery this side of Alaska. Anglers trolling with downriggers or jigging with spoons catch appreciable numbers or pink salmon in the deeper waters of the St. Marys in the weeks before the fish make their way into the rapids.

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Great Lakes pink salmon eat a variety of fish and other aquatic animals. 

Life history:

Pink salmon spawning runs begin in the summer in the Great Lakes when they ascend the small streams and rivers of their origin. Females hollow out a nest in the gravel of a streambed by lying on one side and beating vigorously with their tails to remove silt and light gravel. The result is a deep trough with a raised rim of gravel at the downstream edge or what is called a redd. Once they are fertilized, the eggs are covered. The female guards the nest as long as possible, but dies within a few days or weeks.

Depending on water temperatures, eggs hatch from late December to late February, and the young remain in the gravel nest until late April or early May. Once they are mature enough to leave the nest, they journey downstream in large schools. After about 18 months in the lake the young pinks have reached adulthood and will begin their spawning cycle.

Background information:

Known in its native Pacific Northwest as the humpback salmon due to a large hump on the backs of males during spawning runs, this Pacific salmon was unintentionally introduced into the Great Lakes in the mid-1950s. The population has maintained itself since then, slowly growing in numbers and spreading to much of Lake Superior and the northern areas of lakes Huron and Michigan.