Today I opened one of our last packets of smoked salmon from the previous year. As I was peeling every last morsel of the meat off of the skin, I was a little bit sad that we have gone through all of it but a little bit excited because that just means that we are one day closer to the next season. I do have a few fillets frozen in the freezer that I might end up smoking this weekend just so that I have a little bit longer before we are completely out. I think that this coming up year, we are going to do things a little bit different though.
Every season for the past few years I have an ongoing debate with myself about where we are going to go to get our fish. Starting in the late winter / early spring I am always dead set on hitting Kenai because of the quality of the Sockeye that come out of there. The fish are much larger and much fatter there than they are at the next fishery down the road. Because the fish are more desirable, though, there is a large crowd to deal with and that is why I end up going to Kasilof.
According to Fish and Game, Alaskans harvest 130000 – 540000 out of the Kenai dipnetting fishery. This of course means that there are a LOT of people there. Typically this is my biggest complaint about the fishery itself. Kasilof on the other hand, tends to be a little bit less crowded from the beaches and even more so when fishing from a boat. This is in part because the fish tend to be smaller and less fatty and so less people like them. The highest number of Kasilof Sockeye harvested since 1996 was in 2013 and the count was 85,528. Here is the record of counts for the last 18 years up until 2013.
This year I think we are going to do things differently. While finishing my salty-smoky-sweet snack I was reflecting on if I should go to Kenai again this year, like I always think I am going to do. I think we might end up going to the Chitina personal use dipnetting fishery instead. The expedition itself is harder, the cost of entry is slightly higher, and there is more risk involved. The fish however, are world class. Literally. Copper River Sockeye are the best Sockeye Salmon that money can buy in the retail market. In fact, the first shipment of Copper River Salmon arriving to Seattle is kind of a big deal, with a professional Cook Off occurring within 24 hours within catching the ceremonial first catch. Fortunately they are available for a little bit of work and a small outdoors expedition. Ideally, this trip will give my daughters the opportunity to participate in the harvest and everything it includes without dealing with the crowds so much like we would on the peninsula. I want them to know where their food comes from and how it goes from living in the wild to landing on the table. To me it is something almost spiritual, to be able to connect with life and be involved with processing the things we eat on our own.