Day 4: Tuesday
Why is Alaska obsessed with espresso? In every little town, multiple places advertise it. Don’t worry, we keep drinking it. After a breakfast of free oatmeal from our apartment/room, we headed into the Seward harbor around 10:15, parked in one of the day parking lots with an extremely primitive muni-meter type of setup (shove a five-dollar bill into a slot with your spot number on it), had a steamed milk with English toffee syrup in it from an espresso shack, and went over to the national park cruise shacks to book a cruse for tomorrow into Kenai Fjords National Park.
Among all the different companies, we decided on Major, because they have an option of food on board for an additional fee (instead of including it in the price so that you’re forced into it), and because they have real National Park rangers on board doing the narration instead of just the captain. Then we investigated the Seward Silver Salmon Derby (their 50th) which was going on at the time. We knew in advance that our charter wasn’t going to be a Derby-eligible one, but it was exciting to watch the people come in with their fish and go to the official Derby weigh-in station. Right now, the leader is around 16 pounds; typically winners are 20 pounds or so, but the Derby still has another week to go. (On a related note, the Sea Life Center will be sponsoring a silver salmon sock puppet contest near the end of the Derby: oh, to be here for a chance to enter in that!)
Then we stopped for an early lunch at Sue’s Teriyaki, where we had a lunch special of teriyaki halibut and spicy garlic sauce salmon and vegetables, both served with rice. Both were wonderful. Sue’s also has smoked salmon maki, and she seemed mystified by the idea when we asked about fresh salmon sushi. “Raw? But it would be hard to make sure it is fresh,” she said. We pointed out that lots of raw salmon comes out, fresh everyday (at least in the summer), from the dock a block away. Nothing doing, so we passed on the smoked salmon. At left, we pose midday, pre-fishing.
We went over to Aurora Charters, where we needed to buy one-day fishing licenses for $10 each. The Fish and Game Commission only takes cash or checks, no credit cards. If you’re a blind Alaskan resident who wants a fishing license, it costs a quarter for the whole season.
Our boat was the C-Hawk, with captain Tony. Tony told many lesbian jokes and talked about the “hottie” female captain on another boat, which meant that I was scared to talk to him myself, so I would poke Robert when I needed more bait, and Robert would say something to Tony like, “Oh, we need more bait over here.” Even the manly men on our boat let Tony put their bait on: in addition to our neon rubber fake squid lures, we used herring and salmon roe as bait. There was another party of three people on our boat, so there was one extra rod, which Tony sometimes used to fish himself. He caught one silver salmon, and of the other party, one of the older men caught three, and the other two guys caught one each (plus one pink salmon each, which they threw back because it “isn’t as good.” I wouldn’t have thrown it back, though; hey, free fish!). Robert caught three silver salmon, and I also caught three--although some of mine came in very near the end. All in all, although no one came close to “limiting” (getting our six maximum per person per day here), Robert and I together caught the six biggest on the boat, with Robert catching the only two over ten pounds (one estimated by Tony as 10 and a half, and one as eleven). Those were called the “lunkers,” though I’m not sure about the origin of that particular approving fishing term.
When our half-day charter returned, around 5:30, Tony filleted the fish on the dock, throwing the bones and fins into a barge below, and we ended up having 24 pounds of cleaned, skin-on fillets and roe sacks, which are being vacuum-packed and frozen and then shipped back FedEx to us (the deep-freeze company right on J-Dock is holding them until August 31st, so we should have lots of fish arriving in a box to Boston on Thursday the 1st--I better clean my freezer out before then). The other group on our boat only had fourteen pounds of meat between three people, and that was with the captain’s fish given to them as charity. I thought the fishing was thrilling: I’m glad we started with a half-day charter, because I’d never done anything even vaguely like this before, but I loved it--I told Robert that next year we’ll have to plan an entire fishing vacation. Next year I might even try halibut, too, or maybe one of the other kinds of salmon.
We learned the way that Alaskan children, supposedly, memorize the five different kinds of salmon: hold out your hand, and start counting fingers from your pinky. The pinky finger stands for pink, also known as humpy (because of the hump on their back) salmon; some people think pinks are inferior, and only good for smoking or canning. Then your ring finger stands for the silver, or coho, salmon; you can pretend you’re wearing a silver ring to remember that. Your middle finger, the tallest, or king of your fingers, stands for the king, or chinook salmon. Your pointer finger, pointing at an eye and rubbing it red, stands for the sockeye, or red, salmon. Finally, your thumb stands for the kind of salmon it rhymes with: chum, also known as dog, salmon, which is considered the least desirable by many people.
Really, I can’t stress this enough: for a fish lover who’s only mildly squeamish of flying fish blood and fish guts, and who doesn’t mind the smell of fish, it was an ultra-exciting experience. We saw the frisky salmon jumping close to the top of the water--in general, I fished close to the surface, maximum 10 feet down (both because I saw the fish there, and because it was hard to handle the reel any lower--the rod and reel were quite heavy), while Robert fished much lower, 20-30 or so. Diversification clearly paid off for us. At first, it was very hard to stand up on the boat, because it kept lurching around. I didn’t feel seasick, but I did feel scared of falling over. I staked out a spot braced against the cabin, because otherwise I couldn’t have fished at all for the first two hours, until I gained some balance.
After arranging for the freezing and shipping of our fish, we made sure to have one fillet--half of a salmon--and one roe sack left unfrozen, and on a couple people’s recommendations we took it right then in a plastic bag to Apollo Restaurant in downtown Seward, back near our motel, where they charged us $14 a person to cook it. For our $14, we got: Greek lemon soup and a green salad, a giant plate of really nicely breaded and seasoned deep-fried salmon sticks from our very own fish served as an appetizer, and a main course of our very own grilled salmon with lemon and herbs, with side dishes of pasta and mashed potatoes. Everything was amazing, much more perfectly cooked than you might imagine from a random restaurant, and the service was great and friendly too. We left full and groaning, with a small container of leftovers. Did I mention the fish was ours, fresh, and excellently prepared? Yum. At right, see Robert with all twelve fish caught on the boat that day; believe him when he tells you the six largest are his.