Wild Alaskan King Salmon (Chinook, Spring Salmon, Tyee)
The undisputed heavyweight champion of all salmon, the Wild Alaskan King Salmon represents the pinnacle of the salmon experience to both fisherman and seafood connoisseur alike. The sheer size, power, and beauty ensure that these largest of all salmon hold a special spot in the hearts and minds of the small-boat fisherfolk that have pursued them for generations. The amazing story of its life cycle, wonderful flavor, velvety texture, decadent fat content and unrivaled nutritional value of Wild Alaskan King Salmon will guarantee it a place at the top of the menu in the finest restaurants and on the table of the seafood enthusiast.
As a commercial troller in Southeast Alaska, I’d venture that catching Wild Alaskan King Salmon by hook and line as we do, one at a time, is the most exciting of all the fisheries we are fortunate enough to participate in. It all begins with preseason rituals during the dark days of an Alaskan winter. We will stoke the fire and under its flickering light, lay our work out before us in a methodical way. This is where the artisanship of a long-time King Salmon fisherman is carefully practiced. Polishing spoons that wear the tarnish of last season’s long toil in the ocean, sharpening hooks to such a fine point they stick in nearly anything they touch, tying new leaders of monofilament line at lengths that are just so, and triple checking the knots on each of their ends. Several winter’s evenings are filled with careful dedication to this craft-work.
While we cut the hundredth leader and sharpen the thousandth hook, we let our mind drift and imagine the light from the hearth licking the walls is the flash from the bright scales of a heavy king salmon pumping his tail powerfully below the boat. As we are checking the knots on our leaders, we imagine the king pulling hard against the precise amount of tension we apply with weathered fingers in an effort to coax this warrior of a salmon, this King Salmon, to our boat. Too much tension and the hook will pull free. Too little tension and the King Salmon will take more than his share of the line through our fingers, reaching the bitter end – bitter indeed, as that also results in a lost battle. It is in this ritualistic preparation, and dreaming of the sweet success to come, that we will endeavor to minimize the rate at which the King Salmon bests us, as many are certain to do.
At the same moment these preparations begin, a King Salmon swims the stormy waters belonging to the vast Pacific Ocean. Loosely schooled with her distant kin, she roams the depths with a singular purpose to feed and grow as she has for her previous 4 years at sea. But today, she subconsciously detects a slight increase in light filtering down through the brine. There is a glimmer of awareness, a recognition of a smell that triggers her to focus the direction of her journey. She has smelled this smell in trace amounts for years and gave it no regard. But now she is grown, now she is ready. Now she is heading home.
Over the next few months, the fishermen in the Southeast Alaska Troll fleet continue to prepare for her arrival. We haul out our boats, paint the bottoms, change the zincs, and participate in hopeful “dock talk” about the coming King Salmon run. We tell lies about past King Salmon, in both size and quantity, that are just plausible enough to not illicit a guffaw from the audience. In turn, we politely listen to our fellow fisherman’s preposterous tales, taking note that the fish being honored in this year’s telling was a bit bigger than it was in the last. As the anticipation of the coming season builds, the King Salmon become sugar plums that dance in our heads.
All the while, our King Salmon is homing in on her destination of Southeast Alaska, and in particular the specific river in the Tongass National Forest that is her ultimate goal. She prepares herself at the same time the fishermen do; but her method of preparation is to eat. There is nothing in the final months of her journey that distract her from her goals of getting bigger and moving ever closer to the smell of the sweet fresh water she now remembers well. What she eats is the fattiest, most nutritious fish she can get her mouth on. Her fat content is rising, her body is preparing itself for a run up a hostile river in search of her original spawning grounds, where she will spend all of the reserves she’s built up for years, in a final effort to replicate her DNA.
Eventually, we fishermen are as ready as we can be. We carefully track the storms, looking for a window of opportunity to go out to test our gear. It runs true, as it did for our fathers, and our father’s fathers. The traditional sign that the King Salmon have returned to the Southeast Alaska waters is when an alder tree’s leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear.
Our King Salmon does not know about Alder trees, or mouse’s ears. But she does know it’s time to head towards shore. She feeds her way out of the vastness of the Pacific Ocean’s deep ocean currents up onto the continental shelf. Here she finds a tremendous amount of rich feed in the form of herring, who have also migrated to the shores of Southeast Alaska to spawn. The table is set, and she is hungry. She will spend a month or two feeding here in the ocean just offshore, fattening up for her final push.
In the predawn blackness of a brisk spring morning, a troller stirs from his bunk. He fires the engine up, unties his mooring lines, and quietly slips out of the harbor. Sipping coffee from a chipped mug he found years ago on the “Free Bench” at the top of the harbor ramp, he decides where he wants to be at dawn and points the bow into the inky blackness. He will start trolling with his newly polished spoons and sharpened hooks at his favorite spot, Vitskari Rock.
Our King Salmon has moved into Sitka Sound, pursuing the vast shoals of herring up towards Vitskari Rock, who have arrived here to spawn. She intuitively knows this is the place to be and is surrounded by the dozens of humpback whales bubblenet feeding, the hundreds of birds dive-bombing the surface, and the thousands of her relatives that have joined her for the feast.
Our troller has carefully set his gear at dawn and ensured each spoon mimics a wounded herring. He knows this is the place to be, since he is surrounded by dozens of humpback whales bubblenet feeding, hundreds of birds dive-bombing the surface, and what seems like thousands of his fellow fishermen that have joined him for the harvest.
Our King Salmon slashes through schools of herring in the early light, choosing the wounded fish that can be caught with the least effort. She spies a particularly large and vulnerable-looking herring moving near the rocks, and slashes at it with a powerful lunge. However, this herring pulls back…
Our fisherman hears the little bell on his gear that indicates he has a fish on the line. He hustles to the back of the boat to battle with the King Salmon and bring her aboard. He carefully maintains the proper tension on the line with his fingers, and although she makes several powerful runs, he manages to keep her on the line. As she draws near the side of the boat, tail pumping, he sees her scales reflecting the light like the flame flickering against the wall of his cabin. He stuns her in the water and carefully swings her aboard. She is a fine fish, a fat fish, a healthy fish. She will be cleaned and iced immediately; this extra work will produce a better final product and bring a good price. Her thousands of peers remaining below will not miss her, as they didn’t miss the hundreds of others that fell prey to sharks, whales, sea lions, and other fishermen on their journey to date. A fishery that is carefully and sustainably managed like the King Salmon troll fishery in Alaska is designed to allow for the harvest of a certain number of fish without negatively impacting the health of the run overall. Our King Salmon’s lot in life was to enter the human food chain, as opposed to becoming food for any number of other predators in the ocean or on shore. The sustainable management of these fish ensures that there are plenty of them left to continue on the millennia-old cycle of the King Salmon.
Our King Salmon will achieve an alternate, noble and honored final purpose. Our fisherman took the very best care of her to ensure the highest quality end product possible. He took the few other King Salmon he caught that day to town and chose to sell these precious fish to Catch Sitka Seafoods. There, the skilled team of local Sitka fish cutters quickly portioned the King Salmon and flash froze them to maintain the highest possible quality for the longest amount of time. This is the story of the King Salmon portions that you can order direct to your door from Catch Sitka Seafoods.
The result of these careful efforts by all parties involved is a delectable treat at the table – a thick, rich, velvety portion of fish that will be the centerpiece of any fine dining experience. Treated minimally to best let its natural assets and mild-yet-distinct flavor shine through, King Salmon can be grilled, baked, poached or pan fried to suit any palate. All fish purchased from Catch Sitka Seafoods is sashimi-grade as well, so it can be served as sushi, sashimi, ceviche, poke, or any number of raw-food preparations.
The nutritional value brought to the table by the life of this powerful, far-ranging fish should not be understated. Over four, five, or sometimes six years, this King Salmon has been out collecting the densest nutrients from the seemingly limitless Pacific Ocean. Packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, her rich, flavorful and unadulterated protein is at the pinnacle for the seafood lover who chooses the very best for their friends and family. Her storied journey brought her back to the shores of the Tongass National Forest, on to the decks of a small artisanal fishing family’s boat, and into the care of family owned and operated Catch Sitka Seafoods.
There is one more leg to her journey, however. In this final phase, you have the opportunity to play an important role. By choosing to buy your King Salmon from Catch Sitka Seafoods, you are choosing to support the small boat artisanal fishing fleet in Southeast Alaska - and the sustainable King Salmon fishery it has relied on for generations. You are choosing small family businesses over the faceless corporate oligarchy, and you are choosing a superior seafood product that is directly traceable back to the small boats in the local fleet that caught it.
Thank you for choosing to be a conscientious consumer by choosing Catch Sitka Seafoods.
Written by Hans Olsen F/V Alaska Bounty