Alaska fish speak

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 Sam and his brother James cleaning coho salmon on the river after a recent fishing trip.

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.

Our nephew Colton and my father-in-law Jim Ivey with their day's catch.

* 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.

Yes, Mr. Novak and Mr. Baer. They really are cohos!




13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim Novak
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 07:47:46

    Yes they are Miss Eowyn. One male and one female. Great looking Trophies.

  2. Jim Novak
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 11:00:28

    Remember everything is a Trophy according to the good book of Rutzinary.

  3. Yaya
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 13:09:28

    Thanks for sharing the pictures. It was fun to see your Ivey family guests- good looking folks! The fish weren’t bad, either. I know they taste great from our visits, not from our supermarket’s $24 a pound offering.

  4. Mr. Baer
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 14:17:40

    Calling your pink salmon a trophy was only mild sarcasm, as Sam and I once had a fly fishing contest on Willow Creek to see who could catch the most pinks and it was fun! I believe Sam knows all the run data, timing, regulations and much more. Now I really will be impressed if he can clearly enunciate from memory the Latin names of the five species of salmon! Extra points for correct spellings!

  5. Jim Novak
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 08:40:39

    Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, Oncorhynchus kisutch, Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, Oncorhynchus keta and Oncorhynchus nerka.

    • Eowyn Ivey
      Aug 10, 2011 @ 09:13:38

      Sorry about that Jim — my blog program thought this comment was spam and put it in the trash. I think it didn’t know what to make of all those Latin words 🙂 But can you pronounce them?

  6. Sue Mathis
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 09:41:36

    I caught a 45 pound King once! It was while we were floating the Klutina. That fish gave me a run for my money and my husband had to help me. It was so much fun hauling that huge fish in! Good eating too.

  7. Shereen
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 15:27:03

    Just read your blog, and I particularly like that top picture with your hubby and that handsome fellow cleaning fish. 🙂 So enjoyed our trip! Thanks for having us. And I think(for now!), I can tell the different salmon apart.

  8. Jim Novak
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 17:42:39

    That’s alright I’m use to it. Yes I can pronounce them. I’ve been taught by the best.

  9. Jim Ivey
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 00:56:21

    It was nice to see the pic of Colton and me illustrating one of your posts. I appreciate it. Colton got to do and see the works during our visit, thanks to y’
    all. Thanks again!!!! Jim

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