Susan Jordan wrote this as an introduction to my ‘Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters’ in 2002.
Fishing in Alaska
I’ve been blessed to have grown up in Alaska. Vermont is known for 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 fresh seafood we have available to us. Crab, shrimp, clams, cod, halibut and of course the mighty salmon. We also have fresh water edibles, trout, grayling, burbot, Dolly Varden and pike. It seems everything is big in Alaska, the mountains, the bears, the snowstorms and of course the fish. Les Anderson caught the world record King Salmon on the Kenai River in 1985. It weighed a whopping 97.3 pounds. Now that’s a big fish!
I can remember living on the beach in Nikiski and picking fish from the nets. The nets were huge also when seen from a small child eyes. We held them in high regard because we all heard stories about people getting caught in the nets and the current dragging them out into the Inlet. Mom always reminded us to “stay back or 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.
Growing up, I thought picking fish from the net was like an Easter egg hunt. You never knew what you’d get. Whoever could run the fastest got the biggest fish! The only problem was you couldn’t lift that big fish. We would stand around and exclaim how big it was, then one of us would lie down beside it to see how long it 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 would end up on top of the slimy fish! Then you would have to holler for help.
One year we also rescued an orphaned seal. We named him Sammy. Sammy had to be fed with a tube and whatever the grown-ups fed him sure was stinky. (Expensive Avocet Cream and fish oil. Actually what was stinky was when you threw him over your shoulder to burp him, just like a baby and some of the “burp” ended up on you! We learned to wear a raincoat to feed him!)
Can you remember the first time you cleaned a fish? I was not allowed a knife so I didn’t get to do the cool part. Of course the older siblings would carry on about “this is where you stick the knife, this is where you slice it” and then you got to stick your hand in that bloody fish and pull out all the stuff. My sister Gail was always the science teacher and would often grabbed the heart or what ever and exclaim how cool it was, especially if the heart was still throbbing. Now that’s fresh fish!
When you hear about how to fish for halibut, you do a double take! Have you heard how it goes? First you get a really big, stiff fishing pole and hang a weight the size of a tennis ball or even the baseball on it, depending on the water current. Next comes the monster hook shaped like the giant J or C. In my young eyes if you didn’t get a halibut on the monster hook you certainly could knock it out with the big weight! After a tug or two and unwinding your fishing reel, for what seems to be hours and hours, you may be lucky enough to have a “barn door” size halibut. Even if you could lift it into the boat, don’t do it! That thing will flip and flop enough to break a leg or sink your boat. Everyone gets really excited when out comes the gun and the captain shoots it. Depending on the size of the halibut you may harpoon it or tie it to the boat. (The days of large “barn door” halibut are gone)
I have been blessed, that’s for sure, to be able to be living in Alaska. I’ve had a whale surface close enough to the boat to smell its breath. My brother Dave, who commercial fished in some wild Alaskan waters, says “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 sure our stinky. Watch were you walk and keep making noise to chase the bears away.
We’ve scampered up mountains and slid down glaciers and rode in rafts down swift river water. We hung from treetops to watch the stars in the winter. The northern lights are our own fireworks. We have explored the coastline hunting for agates and have seen octopus, otters, star-fish 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 realize how very fortunate I’ve been to have grown up with Alaska’s fresh bounty in place of store-bought groceries. We grew up on salmon, beans and moose. And then we had more salmon fixed a different way. I thought it was normal to have salmon sandwiches on homemade bread. We never got the store-bought tuna and Mom wondered why I envied those city kids with their store-bought Wonder Bread, tuna sandwiches. I have never known what “sports fishing” is. Sure we were taught to be good sports, following the regulations and always eat what you catch. Don’t waste a thing!
Fishing was a means of survival and providing for your family. My mom has canned, smoke, fried, baked, stewed and broiled more fish than you’ll ever believe. She’s truly a wonderful cook and has fed most of the North Road at one time or the other. I know you will enjoy her recipes and stories and unique insight about the flavor of Alaska.
Thank you, Susan.
As summer winds down and kids are going back to school, we take a deep breath and wonder where the summer went! I have been blessed with visits from my two of my friends that I met in 1967, Jo Anne Adams Wahlstrom and Sherry Mares and a picnic with my Alaskan friends. And lunch with my other friend from 1967 Leatha Earll, her daughter Tia and son Kaye and his cute little girl. This week I have enjoyed my great-granddaughter, Cecile who turned age 7 in July and soon her Daddy will be here for a week. What a delight she is with her smile, dimples and two missing front teeth!
We have worked hard this summer to get to this point. We have a water-well, thanks to neighbor Larry. My country garden is gorgeous, thanks to Susan in her pink EveryReady bunny suit, chopping, sawing, digging, hauling dirt and planting. Neighbor Ginny got in on the first of this, trudging, hauling, and stacking tree limbs. Bob and Porter sawed and nailed a wonderful large deck so we will not be in the mud going out our door. Snow removal will be easier also. They also built, with help from John, Dan and Kevin, a storage shed to store all the stuff you cannot go without.
Now it’s time to garner the bounty in your garden and show it off at the Fair or can it or freeze it. Time to think about the coming months of winter, Oh, but not yet, enjoy every minute of sun and rain before we see the “you know what” showing up!