The several seasons I spent commercial fishing ruined me forever for most sport salmon fishing, I just can’t sit in a boat for hours while moving slowly and catching nothing. Fortunately, we have a wonderful salmon fishing opportunity here in Juneau! Sockeye salmon are stocked by our local hatchery into landlocked Sweetheart Lake creating a fishery where Juneauites fill our freezers with lovely plump, bright sockeye salmon. Because these fish cannot spawn (sockeye salmon biology requires them to transit a lake to spawn in the inlet stream or lake shore) regulations permit fishers to harvest the salmon with dip or throw nets and the bag limits are generous.
We leave early Saturday from the Douglas Boat Harbor, loaded with equipment (large coolers filled with ice–check, chest waders–check, shotgun–check, cast nets–check, dry bags with backpack straps–check, filet knives–check) and happy expectations. It is late July and reports from Sweetheart Creek have been good, the word is that the sockeye are large and abundant this year. We push off and head south, the early morning ocean parting calmly before us as we whiz across the mouth of an uncharacteristically quiet Taku Inlet, encounter a little chop near Grand Island, and, and round Point Styleman into Port Snettisham, finally coming to rest at the head of Gilbert Inlet where we anchor and row ashore. As planned, we’ve hit the Inlet at high tide so we don’t have far to pull the inflatable into the rye grass and secure it before heading up the rough trail to Sweetheart Creek. In the woods, there are large brown bear poops every 500 feet or so, I glance back and am happy to see that Steve, an accomplished hunter, has the shotgun on his shoulder. Teenage Luke trails him, shouldering his pack as the emerging man he is. Crossing the Creek, we head upstream along the right bank, scrambling through the woods we are happy to find ourselves the first to arrive at the top pool. The water level is high so we perch on logs and rock outcroppings to fling our cast nets into the pool below the barrier falls. It requires both skill and strength to fling the net so it lands in a back-eddy where sockeye will be resting and begin retrieving it after it hits bottom but before it snags on a rock or submerged log. We plug away valiantly, two of us fishing and one cleaning throughout the day, breaking for a bite to eat mid-day. As the day comes to a close we have not quite reached our 25-fish per household bag limit but are satisfied with our catch and want to vacate the area before dusk comes and bears get assertive so we load up our drybag packs, struggle to our feet and head back downstream to the boat. At the lowest pool, we encounter a skinny mom with three cubs and cautiously skirt her to reach the trail on the other side. We are not so lucky with the tide this time and have a longish carry to get the inflatable to the water’s edge but soon we and the fish are all back aboard and heading for Juneau, fish nestled into ice we slog through a northerly chop to reach the boat harbor. Exhausted, filthy, happy, and rich with salmon.
Almost everyone can do a good job cooking fresh-frozen wild Pacific salmon Having salmon in the freezer come fall is a great feeling but the difficulty of freezing salmon in pieces of the right size for a single meal leads to one of the more wonderful problems of living in Alaska–what to do with leftover salmon?! Here is a recipe I use to solve this ‘problem’.
Salmon nettle pinwheels
8 oz cooked leftover Pacific salmon filet
3 oz feta cheese
1 finely chopped shallot
1 finely chopped small garlic clove
1 oz finely chopped nettles or spinach
1 oz dried wild mushrooms, rehydrated or store-bought
½ tsp black pepper
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
2 oz grated parmesan cheese combined with 3 oz grated Monterey jack cheese
- Defrost puff pastry at room temperature for 40 minutes or until pliable
- Preheat oven to 400 °F
- In a medium sized bowl, flake salmon filet and add to it the next seven ingredients, mix well
- Spread pastry evenly with salmon mixture, leaving a ¼-in gap on the leading and tailing edges only
- Roll the pastry up
- Cut roll into 12 rounds
- Lay rounds flat onto cookie sheet
- Spread rounds with the grated cheese mixture
- Bake for 30 to 35 min in middle rack of oven
- Remove and transfer to cookie rack to cool
If these pinwheels are meant to be an appetizer, consider cutting the pastry spread with salmon mixture in half and making two separate rolls for a total of 24 smaller pinwheels.