Rural Alaska

How to fish at fish camp

Fish camp owners pass down their methods from generation to generation. In our visits to four different fish camps, we were surprised to find the fish tasted different at every camp depending on how long the salmon were smoked, what part of the fish was used, and what wood had been used in the smokehouse.

Norman Phillips, president and CEO of Doyon Ltd., catches his fish by placing gill nets in eddies where the current runs upstream, counter to the main flow of the river. As king salmon travel up the river, they swim into eddies in order to rest while the current carries them farther upstream.

It is essential that nets be placed at the right depth -- depending on the water temperature -- to catch the fish by their gills. When Phillips finds a net empty, he lowers it deeper, knowing the fish are probably swimming underneath in search of cooler water.

Upon returning to camp, Phillips guts and fillets his catch, cuts strips half an inch thick and brines them before hanging them up to stiffen. Phillips then hangs the salmon strips in his smokehouse to cure for 14 days.

Charlie Green, who operates a family fish camp out of Galena, begins the smoking process by chilling the salmon in a tub of ice water overnight. If he plans on making smoked salmon strips, he leaves them outside for eight hours in order to rid the fish of crust, which makes cutting strips easier.

Another common technique on the Yukon is the use of fish wheels, which are placed in the river and continually rotated by the current. A fish wheel's built-in baskets are angled to catch and collect salmon as they swim by.