The closing of our local king salmon fishery was announced last week, so the kids and I decided to celebrate a fantastic season with one last session chasing our favorite fish around the Island. Of course, the kids had sleepovers the night before, and by the time I had them collected and our gear together, it was pushing noon. Not exactly ideal king time. But it was sunny, warm and flat calm, so we packed a lunch and figured on a relaxing afternoon boat ride.
We tried a few places without any action, enjoyed the weather, watched a pod of harbor porpoises, and when I suggested heading in, Skyla insisted, as she always does, on trying “one more spot.” And sometimes, when there are a lot of fish around like this year, the time of day and even the tide matter little. In short, we got lucky.
In about an hour at Skyla’s “one more spot,” we hooked four and boated three gorgeous fish. Just enough excitement to make two kids, one dad and a Labrador retriever hop around a very small boat. And just enough salmon for a full smoker, not to mention a very satisfying close to the season.
Sometimes, even in the middle of a strong king salmon season, you start craving something a little more delicate and less industrial. The idea was to escape the heat and smoke, and if things went well, find a few decent trout willing to come up for dry flies. I guess we didn’t go high enough–it was still hot and smoky–but the little river was beautiful, with cool water flowing over drops and swirling through plunge pools. There were just enough trout of various shades of small to keep us interested. That’s Skyla above, pushing a nice loop upstream.
Some were tiny and tame, while others were slightly less tiny and the color, as my friend Bill McMillan says, of butterflies.
Halo, though, was having a rough time, her paws and claws not exactly adapted to scrambling on big, loose, slippery boulders. It was slow, sweaty going working our way upstream, trying to find paths that Halo could manage. When we found a flat spot, she and Weston were both ready for a break.
Skyla wanted to keep pushing farther up to fish, so we left the boy and his dog in the shade and kept going. From one vantage point, we could just barely see what looked like a flat spot in the river way upstream. We cut into the woods trying to find an easier path.
After a little brush busting, we emerged from the trees to something from a dream. The river spilled over a bedrock escarpment in waterfalls and slides, pouring into a deep, emerald-green basin shaded by moss-covered maples. Trout of all sizes cruised through the pool. Skyla caught a couple right away, and I hooked one big enough to dive into the maple roots and break the leader.
Then we rushed back downstream to get Weston and Halo. And Weston knew exactly what to do:
Skyla quickly joined him, and we spent the rest of the day in the water, laughing, shouting, jumping in, sliding down rocks, and generally having the best possible time. It wasn’t the outcome I expected–it was better. Much, much better. And I think, a perfect argument for the idea that you never really know what you’ll find when you go somewhere new and keep pushing upstream.
Why is it the longest days of the year pass fastest? I’ve written about it before, but still, the question arrives right on time every summer. And perhaps even more abruptly this year with the flurry of travel and camping and other activities. Suddenly, there are ripe blackberries to be picked–Weston scored these when we stopped to take pictures of the sunset through forest-fire smoke last night–and the days grow almost imperceptibly shorter, if hotter. Time to remind myself, as I do every year, to try to savor every moment of these long days. And hope my mom is up for making blackberry pie when she visits later this month! I can taste that pie already. Happy summer everyone…soak it up.
Here at the 24/7 Fish Smoking Factory, we’ve been kicking it into high gear. Good fishing means lots of work, but thoughts of mouth-watering, hot-smoked king salmon keep us toiling. And my one, treasured souvenir from Japan, a 10-inch, hand-forged blade crafted from 64 layers of razor-sharp stainless steel and purchased from Masahisa in Tokyo, made quick work of the butchering. Love Japanese steel.
First, a quick round of filleting, followed by cutting into strips and chunks for brining. That’s the better part of five kings, waiting to hit the salt and brown sugar.
After an overnight brine, the chunks dry on smoker racks with a box fan blowing on high for about five hours.
Then into the smoker over a mix of alder and apple chips and it’s time to eat. And start the cycle all over again for the next batch. Oh, those salty, sweet, smoky, oily belly strips! Love this time of year.
Things were a little hectic. We had one week after we returned home from Japan to prep fishing gear, get the boat running, dig up camping equipment and get over jet lag. Not to mention catching up with work. So yeah, I was frantic, crazed, sleep deprived and wondering if it was all worth it. At one point, it felt like I was trying to pack everything we owned–and a dog–into the car and boat.
As you can see, the annual camping/fishing gig for the king opener turned out fantastic. Though we missed our usual conspirators on this trip, we were happy Smarty could join in. The weather was windy but manageable, we ate well, and most importantly, the fish were there. That’s the first morning’s haul below.
We played on the beach, looked for rocks, enjoyed cooking and eating outside, made s’mores, and between fishing sessions, generally took it easy. Everyone, including Halo, had fun. And we came home with a box full of kings. Turns out all the prep chaos was worth it, and as so often happens, we came home happy that we put in the work and made it happen. Here’s to doing it all again next year.