So this week, I set off down the road to Kenai with a handful of family and friends to dipnet for some red salmon. It's a pilgrimmage lots of Alaskans make during the month of July. It's something that I look forward to it all year long, and I can't wait to feel the shimmy and shudder when a big fat salmon hits my net like a bullet. I don't even mind that I have to help fillet all those fish or that I'll be finding fish scales in my hair for days later. It's messay, it's hard work, it's addictive, and it's a total blast.
I posted about a past trip here. You can go out on a boat, if you have one, and the fishing is fast and furious. Or you can take my route, which is much more leisurely, and stake out a spot on the beach and wade into the water up to your chest with a net that's a five-foot-wide circle and wait for the magic to happen. We tackle it like a team -- some of us fish while the rest of us fillet on the beach, keeping up with our catch.
The beach is a big party and everyone and their grandmother (literally) is there:
This year, we rescued a little kid who was lost and totally losing his shit. He got lost on his way back from the porta-potties and was too hysterical to even tell us what his car looked like, so we walked up and down the beach with him, trying to say reassuring things, as he wailed and drew everyone's attention to us.
I have this thing where, whenever I see a lost kid, I latch onto them and won't rest until their parent is found. I had a bad experience as a kid living in military base housing, where every house looks exactly the same. The place we were living in at the time was a big square of two story apartment buildings with a grassy place in the center with playground equipment. I looked up from playing and realized I was all turned around and had no idea which house was mine. They all looked exactly alike. I set off for what I hoped was my house but the lady who answered my knock on the door was definitely not my mom. Instead of offering to help me, she told me to check upstairs and closed the door in my face. I knew I lived in a downstairs unit, not upstairs, but I followed instructions when an adult gave them to me so I trudge upstairs obediently, panicking more and more with every passing second. The person who answered the second door also didn't offer to help me, they just told me to go away and closed the door. I trudged back downstairs and sat on the front steps, certain that my parents had moved away without me. Through my tears, I noticed my mom standing by the playground equipment, searching for me.
Lesson learned. I'm a lifelong rescuer of lost kids. We found this kid's parents and they hadn't even noticed he was missing. As soon as he spotted his car, his wailing stopped immediately and he took off without us.
This fishing trip, we were blessed with beautiful weather, as always -- I can't even imagine how miserable dipnetting would be in the pouring rain:
One of our nets, ready for action:
This year's trip had a touch of soggy-ness as well as a smidgen of danger.
The soggy: I was the first to march out into the water and immediately got smacked with a big wave that went right down my chest waders, slowly seeping down all the way to my feet, soaking every stitch of clothing inside. And then I got smacked with a second wave which filled my boots all the way up to my ankles. It was a first for me. I've never gotten water in my waders before and did not exactly relish the thought of standing around marinating in salt water for hours and hours and hours. As I stood there being buffeted by waves, waiting to catch a fish, I pondered how many hours (days?) it takes to develop (this link is not for the squeamish!) trenchfoot. But it's all part of the adventure, right?
The danger: we were all packed up and ready to call it a night and head back to camp, when our friend realized she'd lost the keys to one of our two vehicles. A mad search followed. Tears were shed. Sand was sifted. It was a fruitless search. I was still soaking wet from my chest to my toes. The spare set of keys was 3 or 4 hours away. It was 10 pm, so we couldn't very well head to the dealership to get a new key made from the VIN number.
We searched everything again. And all the while, I'm looking out at the water. The tide had gone way, way out while we were fishing and I knew from the tide table that it was gonna come gushing back in. How high, I wondered? Were we parked high enough on the beach to avoid the tide? Was her truck going to be washed out to sea? Alaska has some wicked tides, after all. I avoided saying anything for awhile, not wanting to panic anyone, figuring we'd eventually dig up the keys, but sooner or later everyone noticed the waves getting closer and closer. The truck was parked pretty much on the boundary between dry sand and the still-wet sand that had been underwater the last time the high tide rolled in.
Here's a photo of the waves lapping closer and closer:
We caved around midnight and called a tow truck to come to our rescue but they said they couldn't do much without a key. We waited and fretfully watched the waves for another hour or so. People camping on the beach came over to ask why we weren't moving to higher ground. At high tide, the waves were lapping somewhere between the back tires and the front tires. Turns out it was a very lucky parking job! In the end, the truck didn't suffer a bit. We headed to the dealership the next morning and got a key made for twenty bucks.
An element of danger gives an adventure pizazz, right?
Eyes on the prize:
Sssssalllllmmmoooonnnnnn, at home a couple of days later, all vacuum-packed and ready for the freezer:
If I play my salmon card just right, this will last me all fall, winter, and spring, and we'll polish off the last bit of it in early July, just in time to go net some more fish.
I kept out one fillet for dinner tonight. It's so fresh that it doesn't need any fancy seasonings or recipes, just a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of pepper. I might make a dipping sauce of agave and dijon mustard (super-tasty brushed on salmon as it cooks, and/or as a dipping sauce), but maybe not... I might just dig into fresh salmon, plain and simple.