How to Cook a Salmon!

First, you get your rod and tackle, with a line strong enough to hold a half grown horse, then you stick five or ten salmon eggs on the prettiest silver spinner you can find. Take yourself out to the loneliest sand bar on the Columbia river, in the early fall when the silvers and kings are running. Get there before daybreak, set up camp, and quiet as a thief on Christmas Eve, take your rod in hand and fling that spinner out across the Columbia as far as you can. Then reel that sucker in as slow as might be, giving it a little jiggle every once and awhile to make it appear lifelike and appetizing. Don’t go getting discouraged, cause it might take you an hour or so to catch one of the big guy’s attention, but sure as I’m standing here, sooner or later, you will get a little tug on the line. Set your hook quick as you can, and then prepare for a battle royal.

Once you have a fish on the line, forget about everything else. I hope to God you have your waders on, and a big fish net handy, because you won’t have time to think about anything while you are busy persuading Mr. Chinook to drop by for a visit. If you aren’t from these parts, you may be expecting to catch a fish a foot or two long. Could be you will, but don’t be surprised if you see something that might be mistaken for a swordfish jumping out of those cold gray waters in front of you. You probably think I am having you on, but these old eyes have seen fish more than a hundred pounds pulled out of the river. No, I’m not talking about sturgeon, though they swim the river same as they have forever. They swim down on the bottom, being as how they are bottom feeders, like catfish. The salmon will be swimming higher up, since they stopped eating before they came across the bar, down by Astoria. Their mouths will be hooked like a snapping turtle, and they will be turning red, getting ready for the mating dance though they have several hundred miles to go before they find their spawning grounds along the upper Columbia.

After setting the hook, and fighting your fish for an hour or so, it should slowly weaken, and you can begin to reel it it. Whatever you do, don’t let the fish see you or your shadow, or it will likely take flight and head off to the bottom of the river. Hold the tip of your rod towards the sun, so your shadow will fall behind the rod, and you will stand a good chance of bringing him into shallow water. At this point, if you are able to grab the fishing net without losing control of the rod and fish, you can try to get his tail in the net, so he won’t be able to take off again. Then slowly haul the fish out of the river, keeping the tension on the rod and the net at the same time. If you have a couple of spare hands, now would be a good time to use them. If you are by yourself, just take your time. Remember, dinner won’t happen til you get home with the main guest. Once the fish is out of the water, take a cosh to its head to kill it. If you don’t, it might just take a notion to try to get back in the water, and you really don’t want that to happen.

Now that the fish is dead, you have a couple of choices, depending on how much good sense you had. If you have a fishing license, you can take pictures of the recently deceased, and then gut it and wrap it up in plastic if you have a shower curtain or something that size handy. If you don’t have a license, then you wrap Mr. Chinook up in an old blanket, get it into your trunk, and get home by the back roads before anyone sees you. This is no day to be driving your old blue pickup with the tail gate hanging down. If you make it home with no stops or delays, then get the fish to a table that is clean and fit to eat off of. You might take a few layers of newspaper and lay out over the table to make for easier clean up once you have the fish ready to eat. In the old days, folks just chopped off steaks starting right behind the head, all the way to the tail. The fish tasted fine, but you had to pick all them tiny bones out before you took a swallow. I had a friend ended up in the hospital cause he got one of those little bones crosswise in his throat. It was a long time before he would eat any kind of a fish again. My Uncle Bud, one of the greatest fishermen of all time, and a damn fine cook, taught me to lay the fish out on its side, then run the sharpest filleting knife I could find right along the side from gills to tail. You flip that fillet over and then take pliers and go along the midline of the fish and pull all the bones out. Then you to the same to the other side of the fish. Some folk skin the fish, but I just put it on the grill, skin side down, and sprinkle on fresh lemon juice and whatever herbs you might have handy out of the garden like basil or dill or chives. Cook it three or four minutes on a side, and then invite all your best friends and relatives to haul up to the table. That will be the best fish you ever ate. Until you get lucky enough to do it again.


7 Responses

  1. OK all I can say is… I love salmon!!!!
    Well done ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I really enjoyed this. Are salmon already red and hook-mouthed before their trek?
    I love this line especially – “Remember, dinner wonโ€™t happen til you get home with the main guest.” Perfect!

  3. i’m suddenly very hungry… i’m pretty sure that means, good job!

  4. Okay, salmon for dinner tonight!
    Although sadly the Leeds-Liverpool Canal holds no salmon, so a supermarket one it will have to be!

    Loved the bit about having no licence ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. When salmon are swimming in the Pacific, they are silver and their mouths don’t have hooks. Once they start swiming upriver in fresh water, they start to change. Poor fish die after laying eggs, so they never get to swim in the ocean again. I know the red color is to signal readiness to lay eggs, but I have never figured out what the hooked mouth is useful for.

  6. Fishing… I haven’t been out for so long I almost forget how much fun it is. Thanks for reminding me!

  7. Sorry I did not get around to this sooner, Barb. I love the voice you use through this piece. The wry sense of humor and folksy manner is great.

    I hope you all enjoyed your salmon Saturday night. That’s what we had at home as well. I was with you guys in spirit.

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