Fishing Time 1967 to 1972
Arness Dock, Nikiski, Alaska
Editor’s note: This week’s piece, written by Grannie Annie’s daughter, Susan Jordan, is excerpted from Grannie Annie’s “Cookin’ Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters.”
I’ve been blessed to have grown up in Alaska. Vermont is known for its Maple Syrup, Texas has its cowboys, Idaho is known for its spuds and California has its citrus, but you can’t beat Alaska with its seafood. What an amazing abundance of seafood we have available to us. Crab, shrimp, clams, cod, halibut and of course the mighty salmon. That is just some of the edibles. We also have trout, grayling, burbot, Dolly Varden and pike. It seems everything is big in Alaska! The mountains, bears, moose, the snowstorms and of course the fish.
Speaking of big fish, I can remember living on the beach in Nikiski and picking fish from the nets. The nets are also huge when seen from a small child’s eyes and we held them in high regard because we had heard all the stories about people getting caught in the nets and the current dragging you out into the Inlet. Mom always reminded us to “stay back; you’ll get caught in the net.” I wonder now if that was just a convenient way to get six kids out of the way in a hurry.
I thought picking fish was like an Easter egg hunt. When the nets were pulled in you never knew what you’d get. Who ever could run the fastest got the biggest fish. The only problem was you could not lift the darn fish. We would stand around it and exclaim how big it was and then one of us would lie down beside it to see how long it really was. I always needed help dragging fish up the beach and we learned early on, to stick our little hands in the gills and grab on. Often one of the grabbers would fall down and the slimy fish would end up on top and the hollering for help would begin.
One year we rescued a little orphaned seal and named him Sammy. Sammy had to be fed with a tube down his throat, and whatever the grownups fed him sure was stinky (Avocet Cream and vitamins). When he was finished feeding we were offered the leftovers with a grin. Sammy had to be burped just like a little baby, over your shoulder. Sammy grew to be strong and was released later that summer. Tears were shed by all.
Can you remember the first time you cleaned a fish? I wasn’t allowed the knife so I didn’t get to do the cool part. Of course the older sibling, with great importance, would carry on about “this is where you stick the knife, this where you slice.” My brother, David, usually did the cutting and my sister Gail was the science teacher, and would often grab the heart and or whatever it was and exclaim how cool it was, especially if the heart was still throbbing.
Halibut fishing was an eye opener. Big barn door sized halibut, that with one flip or flop of a tail could break your leg.
I’ve been blessed, that’s for sure, to be able to be living in Alaska. I’ve had whale surface close enough to the boat I could smell his breath. My brother, Dave, who commercial fished for many years in some wild Alaskan waters, told me “if you can smell his breath, YOU are too close!”
We have been awestruck to see a stream “boiling” with salmon. Spawned out salmon on the banks that are so stinky! Watch where you walk and keep making noise to chase the bears away.
We’ve scampered up mountains and slid down glaciers. Gone on rafting trips down some mighty rough rivers. We’ve hung from tree tops to watch the stars in the winter and the Northern Lights are our own fireworks. We have explored the coastlines, hunting for agates and have seen octopus, otters, starfish and a variety of underwater sea life. We’ve dug clams in the mud and enjoyed the never ending Midnight sun.
As I’ve grown older I have realized how very fortunate I’ve been to have Alaska’s fresh bounty in place of store bought groceries. We grew up on salmon, beans and moose. And then we would have more salmon fixed a different way. I thought it was normal to have salmon salad sandwich on homemade bread! We never got that store bought tuna and wonder now, why I envied those city kids with their store bought Wonder Bread and tuna sandwiches.
I never knew what “sport fishing” was. Sure we were taught to be good sports, follow the regulations, always eat what you catch and don’t waste a thing! Mom canned and smoked, fried, baked, stewed and broiled more fish then you’ll ever believe. And I still love fish to this day.
Mom truly is a wonderful cook and has fed most of the North Road at one time or the other.
— Susan Jordan