There are two types of spring Chinook in the Columbia River estuary; both among the finest table fare in the world. The lower river, or “Willamette” strain, springers are identified by white faces and bellies and typically, a more robust shape. The upriver fish, destined to spawn as far away as Idaho, have black faces, gray bellies and a slimmer silhouette. As I said, they are both incredible fish to catch and eat, but the latter is in a class by itself due to the phenomenal amount of fat they store for the long haul upstream. This is an upriver fish, as you can see by the dark face and jaw, and the tools I like for turning it into the best meal I can imagine.
The serrated “ginsu-style” knife I use to scale the fish by dragging the rough, uneven serrations from the tail toward the head of the fish. It only takes a few minutes, and scaling pays off in delicious, crispy skin when it comes off the grill. I like the standard 8″ butcher knife for filleting because the broad, flat blade runs along the backbone better (at least for me) than a typically narrow fillet knife. Finally, the hemostats (borrowed from my fly fishing vest) make short work of removing pin bones from the fillet for completely uninterrupted chewing pleasure. And believe me, this fish is so good, you don’t want anything getting in the way of eating it.
The fat is where it’s at. Think pork bellies or Kobe beef. Upriver Columbia springer flesh is nearly 20% fat, and it coats your hands and knives like lard as you work. If it warms up, orange droplets of oil appear on the cutting board and knife blades. All of which ramps up the enthusiasm for the coming meal. At this point, I can hardly wait for dinner time. Stay tuned!