Dear reader, near or far,
You might have noticed in my P.S. on Friday that I mentioned the “humped-back pink” on the end of my fishing line. And, if you read the comments from my fellow Alaskans Jim Novak and Mr. Baer, you saw it described as a “trophy.” Unfortunately, sarcasm doesn’t have its own font. If it did, theirs would have been in bold
Pink salmon, also known as humpies, are a lesser fish for someone angling after a trophy, or dinner. In Alaska, we have five different types of salmon, and they are all not created equal.
My husband is a fishery biologist who manages salmon in our area for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He could give you all the Latin fish names, complicated run data, detailed regulations, and much more. But I have decided to give you my own glossary of Alaskan salmon.
* Kings, also known as chinooks. They have the name for a reason. The biggest ever caught weighed nearly 98 pounds. Kings are enormous and delicious, especially grilled the same day they are caught. Despite all of this, I personally find king fishing frustrating. It means getting up at 3 a.m., traveling by car and/or boat for hours, only to fish beside 75 other people who are winging hooks past your ear. You can stare all day at the end of your line and never get a single bite. The next morning, your husband can go to the same spot, while you stay in bed with the pillow over your head, and he’ll reel in a 45 pounder on the first cast. Not that I’m bitter.
* Reds, also known as sockeye. One of the most prized salmon. You can buy Alaskan sockeye fillets in markets around the world, for roughly the cost of your arm and leg. Reds aren’t huge, usually around 8 pounds, but their meat is bright red, flavorful and my personal favorite to eat. Sockeyes aren’t easy to catch — they don’t bite hooks. A bit inconvenient when you’re fishing for them. You can get them on hook and line by miraculously sliding the line through their open mouths and catching them unawares on the hook. It’s about as easy as it sounds. We get sockeyes with dipnets during a season opened specifically to help Alaskans fill their freezers.
* Pinks, or humpies. This is the so called “trophy” fish in last week’s photo. While commercial fishing relies heavily on pink salmon, they are considered junk fish for many anglers. When we catch them, we release them. They are small and not particularly tasty because their flesh tends to be paler and mushier than kings or sockeyes. The irony — on odd years like 2011 they are also the most abundant salmon in our part of Alaska. Inevitably when you are trying to catch a coho, you will instead reel in seven pinks. Hence last week’s photo.
* Chums, or dogs. These are the most disparaged salmon. Locally they are called “dogs.” Maybe it’s because they are so ugly, with their splotchy skin and oversized teeth, or maybe it’s because their flesh is so bland, it has traditionally been dried and used to feed dog teams through the winter. Enough said.
* Cohos, or silvers. This is my favorite salmon to catch, partly for the thrill of it. They come bright and silvery into the rivers, and they are feisty as they splash and roll in the water. They often weigh around 10 pounds, sometimes larger. They are wonderful to eat jarred or filleted.
And so, to make up for my photo last week, here I am with two of the coho salmon I caught over the weekend.