Home now from a fantastic book event at the Vancouver Patagonia store. Great crowd, lots of enthusiasm and talk, good beer and friendly people. Awesome. Huge thanks to the Vancouver crew–especially Liz and Manny. While I don’t have any pix from the event, I do have a few from before and after. On the way up, I ran into these characters doing a little Ghostbusting at a Mexican restaurant in Bellingham. That’s Flyfish Journal photo editor Copi Vojta on the left and El Jefe, Jeff Galbraith, on the right.
After a brief tour of the palatial Flyfish Journal World Headquarters & Grotto, we retired to their exclusive, private waters–Ye Olde Whatcom Angling Clubbe & Retention Ditch–for a few casts. The pristine, gin-clear waters reflected the sky (Or was that an oil slick?), obscuring the multitude of trophy fish. But I did have some ditch-pickle action on the surface, and landed this rare, trophy spiny-back trout. Then it was on to the border.
Finally, after the book event, my good friend Aaron Hill and I took to the streets of Vancouver in search of late-night Chinese food. We had to run to slide in before closing time, but hit the jackpot at Hon’s Noodles on Robson. What a feast. Black pepper chicken and bok choy. Spicy beef with hand-sliced Shanghai noodles. Hand-crafted pot stickers. The only pause in the devouring happened when we shot this selfie for Aaron’s dad, Bruce, who couldn’t make it. We missed you, Bruce! Then it was back to eating, drinking, talking, and um, eating, until way after midnight. Solved all the world’s problems–at least those related to fish–ate a little more, and staggered back to our respective hotels. Awesome.
A few weeks back, when the kids and I went to help the field biologists with beach sampling, we did our own little biological survey as well. When we were done with the seining, we traded the net for a different methodology, using different equipment. That’s Skyla and Weston preparing to deploy the test equipment. The tide was a bit too low–and going lower–for great success, but we managed to find a couple of small sea-run cutthroat trout and one really nice one that jumped three times before throwing the hook. When the tide ran all the way out, it left a channel in the flats that fished like a small river. That’s Skyla, below, working her retrieve like a pro. Perfect way to cap off a fantastic day.
Much as I love fishing for Columbia River spring Chinook, and all the fun and friends that go with it, my true motivation is much more primitive: Eating Columbia River spring Chinook. I look forward to the deeply flavored, fat-dripping, crispy-skin-covered, melt-in-your-mouth experience all year. In fact, it’s probably my favorite single thing to eat in the entire world. Here’s how we cook it, starting with the prime, center-cut fillet from a 21-pound springer above, scales and pin bones already removed.
Next, I cut the fillet vertically into one-inch-thick steaks, and salt all four sides of each steak liberally with good sea salt or kosher salt. Once it’s salted, I put it in the fridge for 5 to 10 hours, which allows osmosis to work–the salt sucks water moisture out of the fish, then, when it equalizes, the water is reabsorbed. For some reason, this process seals the cell walls, allowing it to hold the moisture within as it cooks.
Shortly before cooking, I use the edge of a knife like a squeegee to force excess moisture out of the skin, above. I poached this technique from Thomas Keller’s gorgeous French Laundry cookbook, and it works like magic. Because the cooking heat doesn’t have to evaporate out all that water, it creates the crisp, crackly, fatty, fish-skin bacon the kids and I crave.
The steaks go onto a hot grill–500 degrees seems to work well–and cook for about six minutes total, turning to crisp all sides. Thanks to the high heat and brined flesh, the entire exterior crisps up almost as much as the skin, and each bite literally melts away in your mouth. My favorite food. Oh, man.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the arrival of spring means different things for different people. For some, it’s the dusting of cedar and maple pollen that covers our cars. For others, it’s blooming tulips or the sound of tree frogs at night. But for me, spring isn’t really here until we’re on the Columbia River, chasing springers, and ideally, eating them. But first things first.
We spent a fantastic couple of days chasing springers on the Mighty Columbia last week. It was supposed to be three days, but the state closed the season a day early to keep us under the harvest quota. But we made the most of our time on the water. I was lucky to have a great crew of good friends on board–that’s Sweeney (on the left, trying to figure out how anyone–I won’t mention any names–could snarl a flasher so badly), Justin and Kate getting to work on the luxurious, expansive deck of the Lyla-Kai above. And more good friends–Smarty, Neal, John Wright–on the water around us.
We also found some decent action, although we had to work for our fish. That’s another hatchery springer about to hit the net above.
Kate battled an 800 pound bull sea lion–that grabbed a fish she was fighting–for almost forty minutes. She cranked like hell, I tried to cork him off from breathing with the boat (so he’d let go of her fish), and Sweeney and Crump directed traffic. The whole circus act took us spinning all the way across the river and way downstream. Eventually, the sea lion released the fish, Kate reefed it to the boat, and we landed what was left. Not much to eat there.
Thankfully, we brought five whole ones to the boat in two afternoons of fishing, and I got to spend many hours with good friends in gorgeous weather. In shorts and flip-flops! In Washington in April! Man, that was fun. That’s Sweeney with a couple of nice ones above. I love spring. Stay tuned for the most important part of the whole springer experience–the eating. I love springers! <first, third and sixth photos, courtesy of Kate Taylor>