Another first happened yesterday.

Heading Out to Fish

Heading Out to Fish

We went out on our first subsistence opener: gillnetting for Copper River Kings and Reds.

I realize I’ve used 4 terms in the first sentence that are already making this post unintelligible to those not immersed in fishing culture, but it’s all about context and hopefully I’ll sort you out by the end .

This subsistence fishery allows rural Alaskans, in this case residents of Cordova, to use gillnets to catch a certain amount of salmon each year. Our household of two is allowed 30 salmon, 5 of which can be Kings…yum.

This is our third salmon season.  We’ve fished for silvers in the fall with rod and reel and bought reds (Sockeye) & kings (Chinook) from local fishermen in early summer to smoke and can.  We’ve never had it together to go out on a subsistence opener. You need a boat, or a friend with a boat, and a net and buoys and probably some other things I’m forgetting at the moment.

Bowpicker Subsistence Fishing

Here’s some folks using a commercial bowpicker during the subsistence opener. Notice buouy, net & boat all present.

But either way we finally got all that stuff together and were eagerly awaiting the next required trifecta:

1. an opener (currently a 12 hour period when fishing is permitted in certain areas: usually falls on Mondays and Thursdays around here)

2. a nice day with calm seas (we have a small jet boat…not exactly very sea worthy)

3. a day off of work for both my husband and I (remember it needs to fall on Mon or Thurs…)

It all lined up on Memorial Day and what a treat it was.  We did get up at 4:40am but it was totally worth it…and yes the sun was already up.

Early Morning Heath

Early Morning Heath

It’s nice to get a taste of what all those commercial fishermen are doing out there.  I live in a town that revolves around fishing, you could play the 7 degrees of separation game between fishing and any person in this town and there wouldn’t be more than one degree.  Everyone knows, works with, lives next to or is related to a fisherman.  That being said I’m pretty clueless about the actual process of fishing.  This one day experience was incredibly educational…and super fun.

The Corkline on the Gill Net

The Corkline on the Gill Net

I actually understand what a gillnet is now…cork line, lead line, web…got it. It’s only taken a few years. I really needed to just see it and do it, to understand.  That’s the corkline in the picture above, the net or web hangs directly down from it and it pulled down by a lead line.  This net is 50 fathoms long or 100yds, the length of a football field, which I guess is a “known” distance to most people…myself not exactly included.  The commercial gillnetters use nets 3 times as long…and luckily hydraulic reels to help haul them in.

So the fish are just heading inland, doing their anadromous salmon thing, and they run smack in to the net getting caught behind their gills…or all tangled up in it, in the case of a king.

I'm supposed to be Helping

This was our first king and I was supposed to be helping untangle the net quickly, not taking pictures, but I couldn’t help it, it was so exciting!

It was surprisingly fun and so satisfying to pull in the net and find salmon stuck in it. It seemed half a miracle to me.

We spent a day getting the boat ready, a long day out fishing and it will be another day putting the boat to bed and getting all the fish smoked.  But at the end of it we’ll have a year built around many delicious meals of salmon that we pulled from the ocean ourselves.  It makes a person feel pretty good.

End of the Day

End of the Day

We’ve got salmon drying now and waiting for the smoker and I feel very protective of it.  The taste of King Salmon is divine, and hot off the smoker we’ve affectionately named it “bacon of the sea,” because it’s that good.   So here’s to a successful first, and a successful fish, and hopefully many more.

Subsistence Opener

Subsistence Opener

A Simple Weekend

I hardly took the camera out of its’ case all weekend.  It did emerge for a moment on Thanksgiving morning to capture the light on Hawkins Island.

Hawkins through the Trees

Then it hid away as I cooked in the kitchen, making cranberry sauce, apple crisp and other goodies for Thanksgiving.

It never made it out to capture the stacks of dirty dishes as we tried to navigate our lack of running water, thanks to frozen pipes.

It didn’t make it to dinner with friends & neighbors or to the ski swap.

Our Neighbor's House....looking quite wintery

I didn’t take it skiing, I didn’t want to carry it.

And Heath didn’t take it hunting, too much going on to take pictures.

So I have only a few images from the weekend.

Heath with fresh venison tenderloin from the two deer he happily brought home from Hawkins.

Heath & Delicious Vension Tenderloins

I wanted to photograph the deer hanging to cure…but without their skin I wasn’t sure if it might be a little too raw.

So instead I  bring you the less offensive crumpled pile of red yarn that will be a lovely shawl, hopefully before the week is out.

Aestlight Shawl

From Fillet to Finished

Fillets curing on the counter

We haven’t quite mastered the use of the settings on the new camera thus the picture is a little dark.  However here are some of the fillets curing next to a fan.  This is after they’ve been cut  into strips or in this case, smaller fillets.  They’ve also been brined in a salt solution and rinsed prior to this step.

The next morning, into the smoker they  went.  We tried the last batch in an actual smokehouse but found we had better luck in our barrel smoker.  Tending the smoker in rainy weather proved to be an all day affair.  Luckily knitting and smoking salmon are perfectly complementary activities.  I finally got past the ribbing on a new sweater.

And even got a few inches in to the repeating pattern

Anyhow back to the salmon.

Next it went into the jars that had been cleaned and heated.  This was some of the strips of salmon from the previous batch, I guess no one photographed the second batch.  I don’t think there’s really a need to weigh it but I was trying to calculate how much meat we were getting off of each fish  Also it was interesting to see that we were getting about 5oz into each half pint jar and 13oz into the pint jars.

It feels pretty satisfying to see the salmon all stripped up and smoked and neatly nestled into jars.  So much cleaner looking than while filleting it and surely tamer than the fish fighting on the end of the line.

Into the pressure canner for 90minutes at 10 lbs of pressure.

And voila!  Stable at room temperature for tasty winter meals.

Here’s one more fun one of the collars from 4 of the salmon.

All in all, lots of good fun, I hope we can get one more batch in before the silver season ends.  Though it seems Fall is upon us and I’m not sure how much longer the fishing will last.  I scraped ice off  the windshield of the truck this morning on my way to work, the thermometer said 36 degrees and the sun didn’t wake up until after 7:30.

For the next couple months we’ll lose five to six minutes of daylight a day.  Today we are at 11hrs and 56 minutes of daylight, by November 27th we’ll be at 6hrs and 36 minutes.  Winter’s coming!

But not quite yet, I think we’re all happy to enjoy a little clear Autumn sunshine.  I’ll leave with a few fun pictures from our friend Kris’ visit.

Kris in the Lagoon


Kris & The Glacier



Working Together

Our last week has been very fishy indeed, but it really makes me realize how much team work goes in to food preservation. Especially when it comes to catching, killing, cleaning, curing, canning and smoking salmon; though not exactly in that order. No matter the slime, I still I feel really fortunate that it’s actually quite easy to put up quite a bit of healthy protein for the coming winter in the form of mouthwatering Alaskan Salmon.

Here’s some photos from start to finish capturing bits and pieces of the process.

Here’s Heath fishing with the new door prize we won from the Berry Festival.

And here’s Kris fishing with his hands, since our other rod broke.

Mind you, he did reel in a couple salmon with this high tech method.  Here’s Heath helping net one of them:

Removing the hook while sporting a lovely hand-knit had, made with love by his own mum

So we’ll go from  here …

and just jump ahead to the filleting.  I managed not to take any pictures of the gutting process, probably to your benefit, though that pyloric caeca is pretty interesting looking.  Again notice Kris sporting yet another hand knit from his mom, a glimpse of the just the hood from an awesome fitted hooded sweater.  Heath and I would both like one of our own.

And then when things are finally cleaned up the whole curing, smoking and canning process begins.  More photos to come…

Yarnia & Coho

I’ve been taking a break from dyeing these past few days but I still had a couple of images I wanted to post as pure eye candy for anyone who loves color and fiber:

Octpus in Yarnia

Here it is stacked up before the labeling process.

piled high

 With what seemed to be the eye of the hurricane, we made it out to do some fishing in the sun and to catch a long glimpse of the migrating Sandhill Cranes.


This was a good day fishing, we came home with nine Silvers, and it was warm enough to wear short sleeves!

sewing salmon

It then took most of the night to get them filleted, brined, cut into strips and hung up.

ready to be smoked

They’ve since been smoked and are awaiting their new home in jars, a temporary resting place before they become lunch and dinner and snacks for the winter.

Migrating Cranes

And here’s some of the many V’s of cranes that passed over top of us on Sunday with their unique trilling call, announcing their flight.

4th of July Weekend

Child’s Glacier in the Evening

We started out the weekend with some late night Glacier campfire time, as it never really got dark and by the time it started to lighten up again, we were up quite a bit past the witching hour.  This did not set us up for much hiking this weekend.

By the firelight
As the evening wears on, or should we say the morning begins

But we managed to eke out some productivity the next morning and spent Saturday fully immersed in gutting, fileting, brining, curing, smoking and pressure canning salmon.  While we were down on the docks a helpful fisherman saw me struggling with the heads and showed me how to cut off the collars the proper way, where you actually get all the collar meat.  We smoked those and they were so delicious.  Apparently salmon store a lot of their fat in their heads so the collar is particularly decadent.

assorted carnage

  I tried making some gravlox this time, a cold cured salmon of Norwegian descent,  but it’s still in the fridge undergoing osmosis, we haven’t been able to try it but I think it will be more like lox.  It’s very simple to make and only has 4 ingredients, one of which is dill.  Searching both markets I bought all of the available dill in the town, which was 2, yes 2, packages and that wasn’t enough.  So I experimented with some cilantro and ginger that a friend had suggested, I’m looking forward to slicing into it and seeing how it turned out.

And perhaps least appetizingly, I boiled down the fish heads to make some stock for chowder, Heath did not appreciate this, as our small apartment was fairly overrun with the smell of very fishy fish.  But we’ll see how rich that chowder tastes and then decide if it’s worth it.  I did learn that the fat from salmon is also “salmon” colored…who knew?

The long weekend also brought some holiday festivities to town, with a town wide bbq, pie social and some kelp box racers.

Downtown Heath, ready for the Kelp Box Derby

Later in the day we headed out to check out the salmon spawning in the creek and take a walk along the coast, we found

some chocolate lilies along the trail and lots of salmon in the creek, albeit looking a little worse for the wear than their cousins who we saw just a couple weeks ago.

Chocolate Lily- just past prime

Salmon in Hatchery Creek

Now our bags our packed and were ready to head south for some good times with friends and a wedding celebration this next week!  PDX, here we come!

Smokin Salmon

Deliciously, amazingly  oily…I can’t believe how tasty warm King Salmon is right off the smoker.  You feel like you have to find someone to share it with right that minute, so someone else can experience  that incredible flavor