Featured, Fishing, Outdoors

In Celebration of Alaska’s Wild Salmon Day

A fisherman in waders tries his luck in the Soldotna section of the Kenai River. Photo: Kelley Lane.
by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-

August in Alaska means salmon: in the rivers, the bays and steadily filling our freezers. The Kenai Peninsula brims full of visitors who come to fish recreationally, many of them buying spots on charter boats that go out into the Gulf of Alaska each day. Locals delight in fishing all around the Kenai Peninsula, on the salt water and from the banks of the famous Kenai River. Wild salmon are an integral part of life, a fact recognized and signed into law by Alaska Governor Bill Walker in 2016. House Bill 128, sponsored by Representative Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, designated August 10th as the state’s newest holiday, a day to celebrate the “uniquely Alaskan ways of life, and share our appreciation for wild Alaskan salmon with the rest of the world.”

In stormy evening light, deckhand Hunter utilizes the B dock cutting tables in Seward’s Boat Harbor, salmon lined up in a row awaiting filleting. Photo: Kelley Lane.

In the week leading up to Wild Salmon day, I’ve been asking people about the holiday and about what salmon mean to them. At the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, I met Peter of Kasilof walking up from the river with a sizable salmon in his hands. “I’ve been down there already 4 or 5 times and this is the only fish I’ve gotten and it was given to me.” Peter didn’t want to give his last name, but shared that he has a cabin near Kasilof. The fish had been given to him by a fellow Kenai River fisherman who had decided that they weren’t up to the job of gutting and filleting it. Peter was happy to have the fish. The Kenai River was lined with a number of people fishing its banks, from the City’s riverside docks. In the 15 minutes that I sat waterside, a drift boat with five people, all fishing, pushed itself upriver and then drifted back. The sonar reports within the Chamber stated that there were thousands of fish swimming upstream, but they were mostly staying hidden beneath the river’s surface.

On Wednesday, the skies dumped on Seward, but that didn’t keep people from fishing. All around town, there was talk of fish. Packages of frozen fish were being shipped. At the library, conversations could be overheard about how the fishing has been at various locations. With the Silver Salmon Derby scheduled to commence on Saturday, August 12th, the City Campground is once again filling to capacity. Perusing local people’s Facebook pages yields a plentitude of salmon pictures. In the Seward Boat Harbor, Elle Zernia, of Captain Jack’s Seafood Locker, a sport fish processing and shipping company, was standing duty, weighing the last fish of the day to come through. Their final charter boat of the day had just motored back into its slip and deckhand Hunter had loaded the day’s catch into a dock cart. Lingcod and silver salmon filled the cart and Hunter rolled it up the ramp to the B dock cutting station, where he steadily trimmed fillets out of the fish bodies.

Red salmon swim upstream in a creek near the Trail Lakes Hatchery, where many of the Resurrection Bay salmon began their lives. Photo: Kelley Lane.

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The B Dock cutting stations are a popular place to watch the process of whole fish being transformed into fillets. The covered space is sectioned into 12 distinct cubicles that are easily accessible by walking towards the water from the Harbormaster’s office. Visitors and locals alike flock to watch the process which usually takes places from 2-6pm each day. It’s a fun way to see what species of fish live and are being caught out of Resurrection Bay and the Gulf of Alaska. Most fish can be caught any day, but halibut are an exception. You won’t see any on Wednesdays, as that’s the day that NOAA has decreed that halibut not be caught, making it a lighter day for charter companies. On the street side of the Harbormaster’s Office hangs a placard with artwork and descriptions of the main species that flow through the Harbor. When the fishermen return with their catch of the day, the energy that surrounds them is contagious.

“The fishing has been amazing this year, said Zernia. “It’s been an amazing recovery over last year. We seem to have a bounty.” Zernia gazed out over the harbor, expressing gratitude for the fortune that a good fishing year brings to so many. As the day drew to a close, a staff member of Coho Joe’s, a coffee shop located next door, pulled and locked the door, saying her goodnights. Captain Terry Mangold of Keep It Reel joined Zernia on the threshold of Captain Jacks, his walk still springy after a full day of fishing. When asked about how he will celebrate tomorrow’s holiday, he said “I am excited to catch as many wild salmon as will bite our hooks.” All four of Captain Jack’s charter fishing boats will be going out on Thursday.

More information about Alaska’s Wild Salmon Day can be found at: http://www.aksalmonday.com/

 

Salmon artwork adorns the Gray Light, a boat based out of Seward’s boat harbor. Photo: Kelley Lane.

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