Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Second year fishing the Copper River

My Darlin' (fishin') Man
Last weekend (not this past one, but the one before that... sometimes it takes me a little while to get around to writing), we went fishing - dip netting to be precise - on the Copper River at Chitina.

View from the fishing hole
This was my second year going after salmon to fill the freezer.  This time, I knew what to expect, already knew how to fillet a fish, and was looking forward to making more use of leftovers.  There's a certain ritual quality to yearly excursions like this. The timing (early august), the stop at the gas station and the buying of wretchedly amazing cappucino, the early morning on the boat with not enough coffee, the work of hauling in fish, the long silent waiting, watching the roiling river, the exhausted gutting and driving home, the grateful sleep, and the next day spent processing.  It is a rhythm I see myself repeating indefinitely.  And stepping out into this already familiar rhythm for the second time made me so grateful to life.  This is the way to live it, each thing in its own time, work followed by rest, harvest by cold and good eating.

I made an offering to the spirits of the returning salmon, offering thanks for the lives I hoped to harvest the next day.  That felt good as well, and right, sitting on the bank of the river next to a bear paw print.

Out on the river bank the next day, we caught the limit for our two households in only a few hours.  Certainly a far cry from the day-long, didn't limit out experience last year.
We a saw a seal, a hundred miles or more from the ocean, who - like us - was hunting the bounty of the river.  She watched us with big liquid eyes, just her head above the water.  And then she turned, and her sinuous body dove up through the air and into the water once more.
We caught a number of fish whose skin showed scars or barely healed wounds from teeth of seals or other hungry creatures.

Me and Maple
We drove down with our good friend Maple (of Maple&Me), in their schmancy new red truck.  We saw really pretty views of the river:

Copper River view 
Just look at those glacial silt cliffs!  Imagine the geological time, the awe-some power first of frozen water to lay down that silt and then of flowing liquid water to cut through the banks!

Look closely.
On the island you can see
broken and abandoned fishwheels

Back home, we spent a day filleting.  We scraped each carcass for the meat clinging to ribs that the fillet missed, and ended up with a large and overflowing bowl of it.  I canned the scraps, and we got a total of 10 pints and 10 half pints of goodness.  We filled our freezers with vaccum packed fillets.  We filled bags with the carcass remnants (spine, tail and ribs) for making bone broths - for humans and huskies - and boiling down until the bones crumble in my fingers.  The bone meal will be dug into the garden.  I think next year I'll bring a set of trash bags and haul home the guts to compost.  We kept the roe of all the females we caught.  Maple cured it into caviar that I've yet to try.  And in the week since then, I've come across all manner of recipes for roe.  (The first two are from Nourishing Traditions

Roe Soup, traditional in the Nice area of France. 
Roe cakes. 
 Smoked Roe. with eggs, with brie
Roe sushi.

I figure caviar will work for some of those, if I decide I don't prefer it on toast or crackers.  In this, as with every other animal I kill to feed myself; it feels honourable, grateful, respectful, deeply good and really yummy to use as many parts of the animal as possible.  

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