One of the great things about crab is how versatile it is. It’s great just steamed and eaten out of the shell. If you’re feeling schnazzy, you can dip it in garlic butter or aioli. A simple chilled crab cocktail is delicious. Of course, there are crab cakes and stuffed mushrooms; its great on salads and in pasta dishes. Unlike most seafood, it marries well with cheese and dairy…. Continue Reading
So I had a confident swagger when I walked up to my usual fishing spot on the Skagit river this season and saw that …. everything was different.
Usually at this time of year, we have high water due to the mountain snow melt. This winter though, it was so warm that, well, we basically had no winter. No winter equals no mountain snowpack, and that means that this year …. Let’s contrast & compare, shall we?
Despite the lower than usual conditions, this is still a big river with plenty of flow, and the sockeye were coming. I just needed to make some adjustments to my game if I was going to be successful.
Right away, the narrower width of the river meant that the slower flowing water right along the weed line, where I usually dropped my rig, was no longer there. The water line was now way past the bar I used to fish on, and now the current was pushing pretty hard only a few feet from shore. I quickly learned that I needed to switch out my 4 ounce ball weight, for a 5 or 6 ounce pyramid sinker, just to keep my gear in place.
Plunking rig with a pink winged bobber, red hook & 4 oz weight
I next learned that when the local stores are out of live sand shrimp, as has been the case with the bait shops near me this year, you can always pick up some of the cured (preserved) ones. Just don’t count on getting bit. I tried different colors, adding scents, even combing them with pieces of regular shrimp. I saw zero action using those damned things.
Solution: find a store that does have live sand shrimp in stock. Thank you Holiday Sports!
Of course I didn’t completely waste the time I spent using shitty bait. I took great care to observe what the folks who were catching fish were using. First off, they were all using live sand shrimp, of course. I also noticed that most of the guys who were successful had added a pink mini hoochie (squid skirt) to their rig. So the next step was to alter my terminal tackle, thusly….
Now I had the bait, the weight, and the do-me skirt on my rig. The only thing left was to figure out how far out to cast. A lot of guys were casting pretty far out, right into or at least close to, the main push of the current. Then again, a lot of guys weren’t catching anything.
I do know that when they are moving up river, sockeye like to rest their fins in slower moving water, and they’re not shy about hanging in the shallows. Plus, as I said, I was observing. If you want to know just where a bank fisherman caught that fish he just brought in, watch where he casts back out to. Because you can bet your ass he’s going to try to cast right back to the exact same spot. Many of the fish that were being caught, were hooked in pretty shallow water.
Fishermen lining the bank of the low-running Skagit River
The river bank had a gentle slope where I was standing, and with the clear running water I could see the bottom up to about 15 feet from shore The depth looked to be about thigh-high to a tall Vegas showgirl at that point. I cast about 20 feet out, just past Celia’s (I decided to call her that) lovely gams.
All that, and a bit of patience is all it took. When the next wave of fish moved through, a guy down below me got one, another guy a little way above me got one, and then BOOM, it was my turn.
First sockeye of the season!
Shortly after I caught this fish and got my line back out in the water, I started noticing the sun creeping higher in the sky. As I mentioned, the water was very clear. In case you don’t know, fish have no eye lids and their pupils don’t dilate. Their way of avoiding light is often to go deeper. I decided that I should reel in and cast back out a bit farther, perhaps up to about the depth of that belly button jewel Celia wears. (Your mind has plenty of time to wander while bank fishing.)
Two things happened while I was about to reset my gear.
First off, since this was a Saturday morning, and I was listening to the Outdoor Line radio show through my ear buds. Just as I started reel in, Tom and John were talking about Skagit River sockeye fishing, and at that very moment happened to be commenting that many people fish too deep for them.
The second thing was that when I had my line reeled about half way back in, my lure was probably in Celia-knee deep water at that point, I got bit while retrieving. Clear water, sun shining on it, people standing all along the bank, and I hooked a sockeye in 2 feet of water, about 10 feet from shore.
They’re shallow running fish indeed.
Making a few adjustments to my approach, including paying attention to what the successful anglers were doing, led to some success of my own.
Even though I had to leave Celia behind on the river bank, it was a tearful but sweet farewell, those two salmon were going to make damned fine dinner company.
That rich scarlet color sockeye has is only a hint at how good it tastes.
As folks around here often say, nothing eats like sockeye.
A fish this exquisite doesn’t need much in the way of preparation to be delicious.
In fact I’m really fond of sockeye sashimi.
However, I know some people aren’t comfortable eating it raw out of fresh water, even if it’s taken only a few miles from the salt.
That’s fine. You be careful, I’ll be over here eating.
While raw sockeye is great, putting some flame to it is pretty fantastic too. Just be gentle with it. A sprinkle of salt & pepper, and an easy sear on the grill or in a hot sauté pan is all you need to cook your sockeye into a delicious meal. Aim for medium rare, or medium at the very most, to preserve as much of the flavor as possible.
That’s a perfectly cooked bite of sockeye, in my charmingly humble opinion.
On one of my dinners with this catch, I started by laying a little bed of fresh herbs on a medium hot grill. I used oregano, rosemary, and a little thyme this time around, but just about any herb you like can be used.
Set them on the grill and wait just a moment until the herbs start to smoke. Then take your salmon that you have pre-seasoned with salt, pepper, and a touch of olive oil, and set right on those smoking herbs. You have an option here. If you want it with a bit more smoke and herb flavor, close the lid of the grill, and let it cook entirely without flipping it. For a milder seasoning, leave the lid open, and turn the salmon half way through. Just brush away any herbs stuck to the bottom of the fish, while it’s grilling on the second side.
As you see in the photo, I used my grilling basket to help keep things together, but it can be done right on the grill grates just as effectively.
That easy touch of flavor from those smoking herbs added a hint of savory complexity to the already rich tasting sockeye.
I’ve had practically no time to write lately; it’s been hard enough to make opportunities to go fishing. So I figure I should keep it simple, and give you a quick recipe this time around. Continue Reading
It’s always going to happen. It’s part of fishing.
There’s always going to be the ones that get away.
Around here, conversations with other fishermen we encounter often go like this. “How did you do today?” “Not bad, we went six for ten.” Or, “6/10″ if we’re texting, emailing, or whatever.
That gives a quick picture of how the day went. We had ten fish on the line, and landed six of them. That sums up how we did on our two main tasks. Getting fish to bite, and landing them once they do.
6/10 isn’t a bad day, at least when salmon fishing. Still, those ones that got away always chap the behind, don’t they?
You’re always going to have some fish spit the hook on you. It’s part of the challenge, and part of the frustration. Learning to play and land fish is a very large part of becoming a better fisherman. So here are ten top tips for getting that fish from the strike to the net.Continue Reading
Still have smoked salmon in your freezer from last season? Me too.
Plus I know that many of you have kept your smokers busy over this Spring-like excuse for a Winter we’ve had here in the Pacific Northwest.
What I like about this recipe is that it works either as a side dish or as an entree by itself. It takes advantage of the fact that hot smoked salmon has many of the same flavor notes as bacon: salt, smoke, and just a hint of sweetness.
Smoked salmon and potatoes are a popular combination. Putting lox on top potato latkes is a classic. This recipe is a heartier, more stick-to-your-ribs take on that idea.
Smoked Salmon Twice Baked Potatoes
4 large russet potatoes * 1 Tbs oil 1 tsp kosher salt
*I’ll usually bake a couple extra potatoes also. That way I have spares in case any of the skins break when scooping them out. Plus that gives me extra potato to mound the twice bakes up nice & high.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Wash the potatoes, rub them all over with oil, and sprinkle them with the salt.
Bake for 1 hour or until a fork slides easily through the center.
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1 Tbs chopped parsley
2 tbs minced scallions
6 oz smoked salmon, flaked
While the potatoes are still very warm, cut them in half and scoop them out. Be sure to leave enough “flesh” attached to the potato skins that they hold together.
In a bowl, combine the scooped potato flesh, butter, sour cream, salt, pepper, milk, parsley, scallions, and half the cheese. Using a potato masher or stiff whisk, mash the mixture until well-mixed and fluffy.
Add the flaked smoked salmon. Using a spoon or plastic spatula, gently fold the salmon into the potato mixture.
Fill the potato skins with the salmon/potato mixture. Don’t be afraid to mound them up high.
Top them with the remaining cheese.
Bake the stuffed potatoes for 20 minutes, or until brown on the outside and hot at the center.
Steelhead Caviar spoons with Apple, Dill & Goat Cheese Mousse
I’ve done a couple different attempts at making salmon caviar. The first was a pretty standard salt brine. After cleaning the eggs, they go in the brine for 30 minutes, then get rinsed and are allowed to drain overnight before getting jarred. It lasts for a while in the fridge after curing, but vacuum sealing the jars will extend that quite a bit.
This week I tried a different cure on a batch of eggs. The recipe was supposedly a Japanese Ikura style cure, like you might get at a sushi restaurant. Rather than a simple salt brine, and a 30 minute cure, this has a mix of salt, sake, dashi, soy and sugar, and its in the cure overnight.
“That should’ve been my fish.”
I had just gotten my line back in the water after landing a nice hatchery steelhead, when the guy just down from me made that comment.
“I looked away for a second, and when I turned back around my bobber was under. I tried to set the hook, but I was too late.”
He sounded kind of gruff about it, but I don’t know the guy and I choose to think he was being self-effacing, rather than being bitter at me for catching “his” fish.
There’s an important lesson there, in this style of fishing you need to keep your eye on your float or you’re going to miss fish.
That’s part of the beauty of float fishing or “bobber dogging”. There’s a quiet but sharp focus you are keeping on your line, on the water, and on that little piece of plastic that’s floating down the river.
Those of you who have been following my antics, likely know that during the warmer months I spend a good deal of time trolling for salmon out in the salt water. That type of fishing is peaceful in it’s own way. After setting the rods we usually have time to gaze around at the scenery, engage in conversation, listen music, and (far too often) check our phones for messages. Of course we’re keeping an eye on our rods, but it’s pretty obvious when a line gets hit. So we’re free to divert our attention now and again. Continue Reading
They say that one of the keys to being a good blogger is consistency. Well, I’ve got that part dialed in. Every summer, I consistently stop writing posts. That counts, right?
Hey, when the salmon are running through our area, my days consist of getting up early and hitting the water for a few hours. Then it’s off to work, hopefully with some fish & crabs in my cooler. When the work day is over, I head home and cook some of that fresh seafood for dinner. After dinner, I sit down with a cocktail, fully prepared to type out a recipe or fishing story …… and I fall asleep. Then the cycle starts over. Hey, it’s a formula, but it works for me. Perhaps not so much for this blog, but it works for me.
A limit of coho Buck and I caught, by fishing where we saw signs, and not just other boats.
It was an interesting summer here in the Puget Sound. The bait patterns were unusual, and that meant the salmon were often not to be found in their usual hot spots. Oh, we found our fish, but it was a season of lessons about not becoming a creature of habit. It was about following signs of life, following the bait, following our marine electronics, and not just following the fleet of other fishing boats. Unless of course there are nets flying in said fleet. Most importantly, it was about learning to pay attention to changing situations, and adapt to them … or go home with an empty cooler. Continue Reading
July has arrived, and that means Dungeness crab season here in the Puget Sound. I love this time of year. Even when fishing is slow, or dead, we usually come home with fresh crab.
Just remember what I’ve told you before, the key to a full crab pot is two baits. One broadcast bait to lure the crab in, and a feeder bait to keep them in the trap once they enter. After that, it’s all a matter of finding the right location and the right depth.
Opening day was mid-week, and as most of my buddies were at work, I went out by myself for the year’s first crabbing trip. I dropped one pot at 70 feet, and the other at 95. When I pulled the 95 footer, I found one female and one keeper. Not great for my first pull of the opening day. Then I pulled the 70 foot pot… Holy shit!
I had to strain to lift this pot over the gunnel. It had 11 females in it, and 12 keeper sized males. Pity I was out there solo. I kept my limit of 5, all of them brutes. The other 8 potential keepers got stay of executi…um, deliciousness.
Speaking of deliciousness, I decided to add a little Latin fare to my crab this time around. Rellenos are a fun meal, and a something that many of us don’t have often: a Mexican dish that doesn’t involve chips or tortilla. Mild chili peppers stuffed with cheese, and served with cooked tomato salsa: It’s hard to go wrong with that combination. Add in fresh crab meat, and you’ve got a meal people will talk about for a while. Continue Reading