Category Archives: Fishing

With apologies to Wisconsin, a love note to Alaska

My mental map of Juneau is populated more with berry bushes than actual manmade landmarks: hairy stinkcurrants and blackcurrants, which make the best jam; red currants, not only delicious but about as optimal as foraging gets; salmonberries, juicy but flavorless, a good fallback or pick-me-up on a bike ride; and of course blueberries. Last year W. brought home from Alaska, as a consolation prize for the wage slaves in our household, namely me, a case of blueberry jam.

This year, alas, we were too early for berries. The currant-skeins were all so small and green …

However, we were not too early for Dolly Vardens. Named, I remind you, for a flirty Dickens tart in a polka-dotted dress. Dollies are hardly flirtatious, though. They’ll just eat whatever, and that’s why I love them.

They taste like a delicate cross between trout and salmon. Yet salmon and halibut, the big fatty brutes, get far more attention. Lucky me.

Of course, W. and I are not averse to salmon-fishing. We carried home two of the four we caught, frozen and wrapped in my wedding-party attire. (The wedding being the ostensible occasion we were there; the fishing being the actual reason.)

If W. learned anything as a teenaged deckhand on a charter-fishing boat, he learned how to make fish look big in the photo. I think the blood makes it look like he won a knife-fight with the fish.

Rockfish: Disparaged by salmon fishermen, but it makes the best Thai fish cakes.

We did a lot of nostalgic hunting and foraging, starting the first day: a bike ride to a bolete spot at the base of a glacier, followed by waffles at the Waffle House, followed by dolly-fishing amid the horseflies at Eagle Beach. I have many fond memories of slow, brain-dead waffle-eating after a long day of foraging or hiking out the road. And I love the luxury of how casual fishing is in Juneau: deciding after the day’s main-course activity, to follow up with a little casting … not driving all day to get to a fishing spot; not staking ego or happiness on whether anything is caught, because the fish are so plentiful. In Wisconsin I haven’t encountered any fish bonanzas except winter bluegills, which are hardly worth eating.

Other notable edibles:

• Beach asparagus, a salty vegetable I just learned about. Would make excellent salad garnish.

Foraging for the masses: The Shriners in their tiny cars and everyone else at the 4th of July parade spend most of the parade throwing taffy at people. Sartorial note: Shriners in Alaska wear fancy rubber boots from Fred Meyer.

• A Maryland-style crab boil, with newspapers festively lining the table — Maryland-style except for the size of the crabs — something I’d been yearning for since I left Alaska. Incidentally, PSP has recently been found in Southeast Alaska crab guts. (You never ate the guts anyway, but do be careful.) I am concerned that the anthropogenic rise in sea temperatures will bode ill for my love affair with Dungies and other Alaska shellfish. If the oysters start getting spawny in Kake, that’s when I’ll grow a beard, slash my clothes and start wandering the streets with signs about Impending Doom.

The actual reason we went to Alaska: A wedding in Excursion Inlet, two hours' boat ride from Juneau. This picture marks the first time I have mixed high heels with seaweed.

Wisconsin has its charms, such as the four gallon bags of cherries I put in the freezer last week. But I left my heart somewhere in Gastineau Channel — to feed, naturally, the Dolly Vardens I hope to catch on my return.


How to eat our way out of this mess, or gefilte fish as ecological warfare

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in La Crosse, WI: Asian carp caught accidentally. Fat and ugly, is what this fish says to me. But delicious?

New product alert: Asian carp. AP reports today, a week after my local paper the Capital Times, that some Louisiana companies are planning to put “silverfin” on the market, with the state’s blessing.

This is the same guy who tried to sell us on nutrias. AP writes:

The campaign for silverfin is “dramatically different,” he said, because the fish doesn’t resemble an overgrown rat.


As for the fish’s taste, Parola said that it’s a cross between scallops and crab meat.

Theoretically, I’m all for eating the invasive species before they get to Lake Michigan. In general I’m for eating-based solutions. And considering how many fisheries humans have successfully overfished already, I think we’re experienced enough to take on a bigger challenge.

But I should mention that carp is the main ingredient in gefilte fish (sample recipe), which, for you goyim out there, are Jewish fish cakes. I think if the nationwide market for gefilte fish had potential, it would have taken off already. Unlike most fish recipes, gefilte fish calls for boiling the fish cakes for a couple of hours. I always thought this was to eliminate any possible carp flavor.

Personally, I find the flavor of scallops and crab to be very, very far from that of gefilte fish.

Jessica Vanegeren in the Capital Times floated another idea: carp caviar. These fish are major breeders. They make tons of eggs, and they’re spawning three times a year. “Unfortunately, there is no market for carp caviar,” Vanegeren writes.

In fact, I was just bemoaning my inability to stick to Buy Local when it comes to the subject of tobiko, the little flying-fish eggs. And it seems the carp will jump into the boat, which sounds like pretty easy fishing. (You don’t even need grenades.) So—gefilte fish aside—how can I try some Midwest caviar?

The Year in Foraging

The climax of the 2009: tiny little fish, pulled out of the fish hole.

It was a very good year. This will catch you up on all the things I put in my mouth this year, and a few that escaped:

1. While covering a Coast Guard winter survival school in Juneau, learned to eviscerate and eat the roe of a sea urchin, and also where to find sea urchins. Terrible ambivalence introduced to deep love for otters.

2. Ate eggs from variety chickens of a northern chicken coop. Tasted exactly like eggs. Also saw a Ziploc bag full of all the eggs a chicken has inside itself. There were eight yolks of varying sizes, down to the tiniest youngest egg. The white isn’t put on until just before it’s about to get laid.

3. In spring, pried various creatures off the rocks and ate them. Also sampled every kind of kelp on rocks. Made W. eat a sea urchin. Forwent eating a chiton longer than forearm, on account of it oozing eggs and trying really hard to reproduce.

4. Acquired pink Disney Princess plastic fishing pole from Fred Meyer. Fished like heck all summer. Learned to carry salt on me. Fished during lunch at work, and from every place you can fish off the road in Juneau.

5. Entered, with brewmaster W., a brown ale in the Haines Beer Festival. Gusher. Oops. Good though.

6. Bought kayak, learned to net dollies while paddling.

7. Came home with sixteen brook trout. Later learned limit was ten. Ate fish for more meals than desired. Gave fish to cats. Learned cats do not like fish. Wrote short history of said brook trout.

8. Worst meal of year: pad thai while camping.

9. Dug clams with a master. Ate none of the clams. Meanwhile wrote about new frontiers in paralytic shellfish poisoning detection.

10. Wreaked revenge on devil’s club by eating it. Coworkers preferred it to sea cucumber.

11. Killed (well, W. killed), butchered with kitchen knives, made posole of and ate a Mount Roberts porcupine.

12. Picked red and orange salmonberries, raspberries, nagoonberries, cloudberries, thimbleberries, blueberries, huckleberries and at least four kinds of currants. Made mental map of underexploited currant bushes in Juneau, and preserves.

13. Moved to Madison. Found wild places hiding in the urban zone. Started blog.

14. Worked a month at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station. Consciousness expanded regarding varieties of apples, grapes, peppers, raspberries, what have you. Epic canning and pickling sessions. Trauma from late blight.

15. Things that fall from trees or bushes: Walnuts, apples, blackberries, wild grapes, seaberries.

16. Fungi: Oysters, late oysters, angel wings, hedgehogs, honeys, velvet stalks, puffballs, corn smut, boletes, chickens of the woods, stinkhorns (not eaten). Etc.

17. A turtle. Not eaten.

17. Drove motorcycle from San Francisco to Madison via Yuma. Date shakes, tamales, chorizo and eggs, Hal’s horseradish, a 72 oz. steak I didn’t eat.

18. Before the snow hit, the cranberries finally ripened.

19. Raccoon. From a butcher. With a foot. As goulash.

20. Ice-fishing. A dream realized—with tiny little fish.

In Which W. and Kate Are Initially, but Not Finally, Outwitted by Fish That Would Qualify as Bait in Alaska

These ones are empty. I want a refund.

After yesterday morning’s ice-fishing, I thought about writing a post. It would be entitled, “A Cry for Help.” I did not do it, because my thawing fingers hurt too much to write just then. But now I can report that W. and I did not stop at our lowest point. We regrouped, tackled our predicament like the problem-solving humans we are, persevered, and came home with fish for dinner.

We are minimalists; we are action-, not research-oriented; we have no useful knowledge of ice-fishing. Continue reading

Q. Why did Jesus walk on water? A. To get some delicious bait.

Time to stock up on bourbon and worms. This weekend, while stumbling through the snow looking for beer — a hash is a grand drunken ritual of foraging, isn’t it? — I saw the insane people out trying to walk on water at Monona Bay. The ice looked translucently unsafe by Mendenhall Lake, Juneau, standards. But there they were, Madison fishermen and their shacks and buckets all little dots in the distance. It almost made me want to detour from beer-hunting to see if they’d caught anything yet.

Ice-fishing: a major reason I was OK with moving to Madison. I’ve heard it’s not everyone’s mug of beer, but I can’t understand why. Meditative solitude, fresh air, free fish!

Free petite fish, that is (flip to 2:20 for the “big, giant bluegill”). I’m going to give the lake a couple more cold days like today. And then I’ll be mooching an auger, drinking beer, and pulling up tiny little live baits with the best of ’em. Also I’m going to have to flip a coin with W. to see whose tent we’re going to cut a fish-hole in.

I have much to learn. What is the proper ice-fishing lure or bait? The best ice-fishing drink? Appropriate reading material? Please advise. On my list for the moment: Fish heads, coffee with bourbon, and, of course, the New Yorker. I’m waiting for their Winter Fishing Issue.