This is me standing on a beach on the Kenai River in Alaska in freezing rain, holding a puppy named Cleo, and surrounded by dead sockeye salmon entrails. Summer in Alaska has never been so sweet or so full of carnage.
I did not realize it, but fishing in Alaska is akin to…well…nothing comes to mind. In my neck of the woods, fishing is something people do for pleasure. You come home at the end of the day with a fresh sunburn and some sand in your hair, and if you catch a few fish to eat all the better. Not so in the great North.
In Alaska fishing for salmon is both sport and necessity. When word gets out that the salmon are running, people hightail it to the nearest fish hotspot as fast as their Subaru and pickups can carry them. The closest thing I’ve seen to the frenzy to get into the Kenai was the crowd of cars I saw outside of Bonnaroo. People are damn serious about their fish out here.
Families come as one, both to enjoy some quality time together and exploit their children to bonk the s&%* out of some sockeye salmons.
Yes, bonk. Let me back up. Instead of fishing for the salmon with a traditional fishing rod, which wouldn’t work because salmon are no longer eating as they swim upstream to have their babies and die, people in Alaska do something called dipnetting. Dipnetting is when you basically stand in the water with a 5 foot diameter net, wait for a salmon to swim into it, and then drag it back onto shore and kill it by bonking it in the head. I’m pretty sure that’s a technical term, and it’s usually the kid’s job.
After the salmon is bonked it’s gutted, de-headed and rinsed of slime and sand.
People throw the entrails and heads of their salmon back in the ocean, which of course washes up on the shore during high tide. Hence the giant piles of rotting fish carcasses
Which is a very strong contrast to the crazy beautiful mountains and ocean all around.
And a few crazy people, including David Hansen, opt to float instead of dipnet. This is basically dipnetting but instead of standing up to your chest in the freezing cold ocean water, you swim around in it like a crazy person, all while holding a net. Yeah, you get a few more salmon, and probably lose the use of a few extremeties due to hypothermia.
If you look closely, you can see a little black dot that’s David’s head.
Despite the fish blood and rain, this weekend of sockeye salmon-ing was definitely a true AK experience. And now we have 120 red salmon fillets to eat all summer long! Tom and Suzers, some day I will get you to eat this delicious red flesh and love it. Mark my words.
A good way to start is with Dave’s signature brown sugar salmon rub!
Dave’s Brown Sugar Salmon Rub
makes enough for 2 large salmon fillets
1/2 c brown sugar
1 tbsp. fresh thyme
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
1/4 c olive oil
Mix dry ingredients, add olive oil bit by bit until it becomes a paste and is spreadable with a fork.
Rub into salmon and then grill on a moist cedar plank.