To fillet or not to fillet?

Unhinged Alaska

Serious sized fish have avoided my gear so far this year. I really have no excuses other than every place that I normally practice my unique flailing style has been shutdown or the returns have been so weak that the tides are ashamed to show up with the measly runs. 


During one of my beach stalks, as I searched for the perfect place to get skunked again, I ran into a chilled out fly-in foursome from Oklahoma. They had been in the area for a week and had spent most of their time beachcombing along with motoring out with a couple of halibut charters.

They were a bit disappointed with the size of the flats but were excited that a relative from Soldotna was heading down with a batch of frozen reds for them to ship home along with the wimpy ‘buts.

I was a bit worried until I found out that the Good Samaritan was a trusted nephew because some Alaskans have been known to unload prehistoric fillets they’ve been using as freezer shelves on unsuspecting visitors. Especially if they’re from a state that’s so far from the ocean that the word “tide” signifies a cleaning product.

The Okie Four (their term) invited me to their campsite and when the young man showed up, he had over a couple dozen beautifully vac-sealed, rock-solid fillets plus two fresh sockeyes. 

While one of the gentlemen took the booty to an overnight shipper the rest of the crew put the gutted fish on ice and pondered on how to prepare them.

I couldn’t figure out why they were so perplexed until one admitted that he was the only one that had ever cleaned a fish. He was twelve years old at the time and it was a small sack of stunted perch. He said the two, seven-pound reds staring back at him looked like miniature orcas.

I offered to help and advised him not to feel awkward because until last week I thought I was a master of the fillet knife. Then I ran into some folks at the Homer Harbor cleaning tables processing fish from China Poot Bay.

Some of those citizens were so good that their knives made the flesh smoke. Two women in particular went Bruce Lee on a couple of dozen reds in less time than it took the guys next to them to choose which end of the fish to start with first.

I eased up to a gentleman who was bagging the women’s fillets and whispered, “Those ladies are amazing.” “Suppose so.” He grumped. “You shoulda seen ‘em back in their 60s.”

The only thing that kept my ego from crawling into a commode and flushing itself was that they were using the same technique that I do only I’m not from the Planet Krypton and don’t have knives that can carve through steel girders with a flick of the wrist.

Trust me, I’m not close to being an expert but my efforts don’t result in what looks like a pile of fish Alpo either. But then again I use a cutting edge that’s sharper than a downrigger weight and have developed a basic slicing technique which produces a fair fillet rather than something resembling the end result of mugging a fish carcass with a butter scoop.

Anyway, the Oklahomans ended up with some respectable cuts and issued an invitation to their sockeye barbeque.

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay because I had surprised my wife with a flight reservation and day trip to the Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park where she could get up close and personal with the grizzlies snatching reds from the river and I had to roll to meet her return. 

When she stepped out of that plane, she had a dazzling smile that lit up the lakeside. I knew why after looking at the pictures she brought back. Not only were they basically awesome but they’ve made me consider changing my angling techniques.

I figure if I stop cutting my hair and let my fingernails grow, by this time next year, I’ll give those greedy bruins some major competition if I can just discover a secluded spot up stream where I won’t start rumors of a feeding Sasquatch in the area.

Nick can be reached at if he isn’t trying to ambush a silver in the Anchor River or studying the bear fishing techniques of the Brooks Falls mob.


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