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.
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.
With this year’s short king salmon season in full swing, it’s been an all-hands-on-deck exercise in fishing, processing, brining and smoking salmon, vac sealing, curing ikura salmon caviar, fishing, smoking more salmon, fishing, etc, etc. Three smoker batches and two salmon-caviar-making sessions in, we are full steam ahead. We’ve been eating salmon every day for more than a week now, and nobody’s complaining. Oh, yeah, there’s also work, chores and summer sports camps in the mix as well. Did I mention fishing?
This is summer, when the longest days of the year fly by the fastest, and we try to make the most of every minute of daylight. And based on how much the kids love smoked salmon for school lunches, and how we ran out of it by February last year, it’s time to produce, process, package and preserve. And on that note, it’s time to go eat some of the smoked belly strips pictured above. I love summer.
We almost bailed this year. Coming off of a big family visit, Skyla fighting a serious sinus infection, and with work piling up, all that goes into out annual king-salmon fishing and camping trip with the Sweeneys seemed too daunting. It would be so much easier to simply stay home and fish our local waters. But at the last minute, mostly at the urging of Sweeney’s younger daughter Laine, we decided tradition wins out and went for it. A twenty-hour whirlwind of shopping, packing and fishing-gear organizing ensued.
We hauled it all to our campground and found the boat ramp closed, which added yet another complication. But as we unpacked our gear and set up camp, I realized we were having fun. It felt great just being there. When the Sweeneys arrived, the uplift was complete.
5:00am came fast, but the kids woke up easily (wish I could say the same for their dad) and cheerfully, and we were on the water in time for the good tide. For the next two days, we fished hard, cooked and ate outside, played frisbee, read books and napped in the afternoon. We had a wonderful time. And now, looking back at our camping trip, I’m so happy we didn’t bail. It was more than worth it.