There I was, motoring down the Kenai River, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the handle of my 5 ft. dip net. The first fish hits hard, and I quickly shift the motor into neutral and start pulling in my prize; a beautiful large red salmon.
I quickly tear out a gill to bleed-out my fish, and put it on ice in my cooler after clipping off the ends of the tail. I drop my net back into the river, and repeat the same scenario many times that day, as does my eldest son Bradley, as together we haul in 2 huge coolers full of fresh salmon. I am very grateful to be living in Alaska and that we are allowed to get fish like this every year.
I think about many parts of the world where catching fish is almost impossible, and people are starving. I also wonder just how thrilled these people would be, if they could go out fishing and have enough fish in one day to feed their whole family all year. Yes, we here in America are spoiled. Especially those of us residing in Alaska.
I dropped off some fish to a good friend of mine who is home recovering from a couple of back surgeries and also a hip injury, that prevent him from going fishing himself. You have never experienced the joy of living until you know and feel the gratitude that people show you for simply thinking of them by dropping off some fresh CLEANED fish. I have always said, "it is not really a gift if it means creating extra work for them." A true gift of food (any kind) is food ready to eat, not something that you gave away just so you don't have to clean it!
One thing I notice every year while dip netting, is the large variety of boats used on the Kenai each year. There are boats of every size, shape, and color out there. Some have such short sides on them, that it makes me wonder if the occupants even feel safe in them. I would think in some cases, about ten large reds would be about the load limit for them. Sometimes I see about 6 guys in one of these low rider specials, and each of them is trying to fish at the same time!
I also see nets of every size, shape and design out there. From expensive ones, to homemade ones - that despite not being very pretty, still seem to work just fine. Then there are the black mesh ones, which when I see them being used, I always tell everyone that they are held by people who really hate cleaning fish. I know in the Kenai River, that fish can see that black mesh and more apt to go around it then in it.
Another thing I see a lot of people doing is clubbing their fish, which kills it instantly. When that fish dies instantly, his heart stops pumping instantly too. Which means, that unless you move that fish up and down in the water pumping out its' blood, it does not bleed out. Additionally, if you miss the fishes' head while it is flopping and strike it any place but the head, you also bruise the meat.
I once watched an elderly woman club her fish at least twenty times trying to kill it, while it flopped in her net. Not once did she ever get a good, clean shot to the head. I'll bet that once she got home, she was wondering why that one particular fish was so blood-shot and the meat was so red. All she had to do was tear one gill and let the fish bleed out. Within twenty seconds after doing this, most fish are already bled out and dead.
I also like putting fish (of any kind) on ice as soon as I catch them, which serves two purposes. Number one: it preserves the freshness of the fish, and number two, it stiffens them up making them easier to clean. Your filets come out smooth and nice-looking if your fish are cold, instead of soft and mushy. The worst thing you can do, is to haul your fresh fish anywhere in black garbage bags. Most garbage bags are made from manufacturing waste byproducts of oil, and ARE NOT food grade. They also draw in heat making your fresh fish soft and mushy.
We have a rule at our home: "Nothing in black garbage bags except trash!" Ever wonder where the kid's snow suits went? Oh, we put them in a black garbage bag, I wonder if they got thrown out with the trash? Think about it, clear bags (so you can see in them) for storage, but black bags are for trash!
If you know that you have more fish then you can eat in the next year, can some now while it is fresh instead of waiting until it starts to get freezer-burned. Doesn't canning extra fish fresh make more sense than having to thaw it to can it later? Please don't take fish home, just to throw it back out when it is ruined next spring. Think ahead, and plan how many fish you're going to eat in the next year to prevent having to throw them out.
Be ever mindful of the needs of others especially the elderly or those less fortunate then you when you have extra fish. A true Alaskan is one who reaches out to help those in his neighborhood that have a need. If you're not already doing this, it might be time to change your address to some other part of the world. Many of us have been in that same situation before, and now it is our turn to help someone back. Besides, how many of us couldn't afford to give away a few fish or fresh garden items each year? Need a pat on the back or a hug today? Drop off something for someone in your neighborhood and see what happens to you! See you next week!
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