Pink Salmon: What really happened?

There have been a lot of rumors swimming around over the years as to how the Pink Salmon became full time residents of Lake Superior. We figured it is time to tell the real story.

It dates back to 1956 when approximately 21,000 fingerling pink salmon, on their way to a tributary to Hudson Bay, were unintentionally released into the Current River in Thunder Bay, Canada. These pinks were grossly underestimated. Critics saw these pinkies, aka humpbacks, as the least likely of all the exotic salmon to survive in the fresh water of Gitchigumi. But to much dismay, in 1959, two spawning pink salmon were caught in two separate tributaries, one in the Cross River and one in the Sucker River.

Since those first days back in ’59 our Pinks have been running the streams and rivers of the North Shore on a two year cycle. Yup, two years, that is it. During the 60’s and 70’s the Pink population exploded in record numbers. The dramatic increase in numbers was considered an annoyance by some and heaven to others. The impressive population peaked in 1979 and has yet to see similar masses.

In the 70’s the odd year Pink migration experienced a slight deviation in the two year spawning cycle. The pinks had established an even-year run. First recorded in 1976 in Ontario’s Steel River, the Pink Salmon continues today to spawn in even as well as odd years.

Since the initial introduction, the Pink Salmon has adapted quite well to its home in Lake Superior, reproducing naturally. The average spawning size each fall is approx. 13” – 15” long and weighing in at about a pound or so. The males develop a distinct hump on their back during the spawning run, hence the name humpback or humpy. The pinks also start to deteriorate pretty quickly upon entering the rivers, turning a green then blackish color. Upon entering the rivers, a whitish fungus also starts to grow on the skin and fines of the Pinks. This is a sure sign the fish are near the end of their life cycle.

Pinks are difficult to catch but, with the right technique and flies you just might get to experience what all the hype is about.

Feel free to contact us for more information on Pink Salmon or other North Shore species. Minnesota Steelheader and staff are here to lend a helping hand.

Some information was gather from “The Superior North Shore” by Thomas F. Waters

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