I still have a few Alaska stories for you, but with the nomination of Alaska’s governor as the Republican VP candidate, an avid sportswoman, I thought I’d share one story of the glories of our 49th state: fishing. You see, pretty much anyone can catch fish in Alaska. If folks go out and don’t catch several specimens in a few hours, well, you either have really horrific karma or you forgot to use a hook.
Anyhow, as some of you may know, we took this family vacation in part to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. She was an army brat, growing up in Oklahoma, spending her formative years in Nuremburg, Germany, and living in Raleigh for pretty much the past half century. She loved to fish when she was a child, but she told us that she hadn’t caught a fish since she was a teenager. And she REALLY wanted to catch a fish on this trip.
So when we chartered our wildlife and scenery boat trip, we chose to add the “fishing extra.” I didn’t know what that really meant, other than we’d drop a line in the water, but to my mother-in-law, this meant reliving some of her childhood (note, however, that it may surprise you that the Resurrection Bay of Alaska looks nothing like Duncan, OK, so it was a slightly different experience).
The trip was fantastic. We saw bald eagles and puffins, sea otters and harbor seals, a pod of orcas breaching and another pod of Dall’s porpoises chasing our boat. We saw a glacier calving and dramatic waterfalls. And we stopped to fish twice.
The first time was for silver (coho) salmon. We pulled into an area that obviously was pretty good fishing, based on the number of other boats in the area. WIthin a few minutes, my 9 year old son hooked the first fish, a lively sucker, that took to air 2 or 3 times. Unfortunately, the fish got away before we netted it. This is when the ladies took over. My wife got the first one, then my mother-in-law, then my wife again, and then my mother-in-law once more. Yup, we caught 4 beautiful salmon — err, well, two of us caught 4 beautiful salmon. And to top it off, a humpback whale sounded about 20 feet from the side of our boat. Cool. Very, very cool.
Towards the end of our trip, we stopped to fish for halibut, which is a bit different than salmon fishing, where you drop your line 50 to 60 feet and just bob it around. With halibut, you drop it to the bottom, and here, the bottom was 160 feet deep! Anyhow, after thinking I landed the biggest halibut ever, struggling with it for 5 minutes, reeling until I was sweaty, it dawned on me that I had just snagged the bottom of the ocean. Dammit. So what happened next? My wife and mother-in-law took over again. They hooked 3 halibut, although they let my 14 year old son reel one in. When he took that pole, he handed his to his 7 year old sister, who exclaimed less than a minute later, “I need help.” Yup, she hooked one, too, which after I reeled it in for her, turned out to be the biggest fish of the day. These weren’t big halibut, maybe 20 pounds, but we heard that the small ones were the best eating.
And this was certainly fish we planned on eating.
One restaurant in Seward, Alaska, the Apollo, has a great special. For something like 15 bucks a person, this place will cook your freshly caught fish two different ways, fried and broiled, serving it family style with a couple of sides. If you bring in 2 pounds of fish or 200, it still works out to 15 bucks a head. So after giving over half our catch to our crew, we headed directly to the restaurant with the freshest fish I’ve had since I was a child.
The halibut was fried, with a crunchy, lovely crust. There were two full platters of this stuff for the 9 of us, so we sent a lot of it to a nearby table (another large family), telling them, “We caught this 3 hours ago!” Yeah, we were bragging, but when you’re sharing food, so what?
The salmon was broiled with olive oil, garlic and herbs. They used a bit too much garlic and herbs and the fish was cooked a little more than what I would have preferred, but the freshness of the fish compensated for the heavy hand in the kitchen. This was extremely tasty stuff. And, of course, we sent some of this to another nearby table.
We still had about 5 pounds of halibut on ice, so the next day we took that to our B&B in Anchorage, the Alaska House of Jade. The proprietor of the B&B cooked the halibut in a dairy-intesive dish — sour cream, mayo, cheese, dill. It was super rich, but really nice. Folks, if you’re ever in need of a B&B in Anchorage, this place is fantastic. The owners still make old-fashioned breakfasts, but with a very contemporary touch. Fresh fruit, reindeer sausage, eggs with cheese and chives, waffles, fruit compotes, sourdough pancakes. Wow.
So we ended up eating plenty of fish we caught ourselves, and my mother-in-law relived her childhood. As you can see in the picture at the top of the story, she kind of had a good time!