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The KING is in the Building…

Posted on: June 3rd, 2011

Dennis Zadra, our fisherman in Cordova Alaska

[From June 3, 2011 – actual arrival dates vary every year, usually arriving mid to late May]

The Kings of Spring are in the house, and the best salmon of the year is in Tony’s Markets right now – King and Sockeye Salmon fresh from the Copper River of Alaska! (Copper River Salmon arrives mid to late May every year). We were the first market in Colorado to carry Copper River salmon, and we’re still the most consistent and freshest of all markets in town – because we have our own fisherman!  I went fishing with Dennis and have lots of pics and a video – we’ll let them tell the story… (brief video at end).

We start by loading the boat with LOTS of ice – the Mehgan Denise (named his boat after Dennis’s daughter) is specially designed for fishing the Copper River – with a flat bottom and two Chevy 350’s driving jet engines, that’s what it takes to cross the flats and maneuver the high seas of Alaska.  Once we get ice, gas and a cooler full of food, we’re off for the fishing grounds and 72 hours of non-stop fishing, or should I say work!

The Meghan Denise has a hydraulic wench that operates a HUGE net that has weights on the bottom
and buoys on top, creating a ‘curtain’ in the water to capture the migrating fish;
smaller nets are used for sockeye, larger nets for Kings.
The Copper river is immense and moves incredible amounts of silt – we’re in the Delta
where the water is very murky, can you see the clearer colored sea off in the distance?
To cross the sandy delta flats takes custom made stainless steel boats of a certain size with flat bottoms
and jet propulsion.  Most of the fish are brought in by tender boats
which cannot cross the delta, so they take days to reach port.

 

We started fishing inside the delta at exactly 7 pm (Fish and Game patrols by air) and
dozens of boats competed fiercely for position at the most inland starting point.  The sun dimmed for a
couple hours overnight but Dennis never stopped fishing for over 48 hours!
4 am the next morning, fishing has been slow so we moved out of the delta into the bay,
tracking successful spots from last year marked in his GPS.
The net is stretched out to form a curtain in a suspected fish path, soaked for about 40 minutes
and then hauled in and removed by hand.  In between sets the fish are cleaned, sorted and iced.
Dennis saves his prime fish for us and the rest are traded with cannery tender boats for gasoline.

 

The Copper River is immense – this picture is only one of the many fingers that dump into the delta
with glaciers on all sides and incredibly cold water. I took this from the “Million Dollar Bridge”
built during a copper boom in the early 1900’s.  Only natives can fish in the river.  The boat you see is Alaska
Fish and Game monitoring the laser fish counter – ensuring enough fish have escaped before each opener.
Salmon fishing is dangerous and hard work. It rained most of the time, it was very windy,
the boat rocked a stomach churning dance and it was soooo cold – but the view was AMAZING!
Dennis fished the last 24 hours on the lee side of Wingham Island to block the cold wind.
Dennis with a fine Sockeye Salmon – it’s amazing how he kept smiling and joking for the whole trip,
the hardest working man I know!
Not a huge haul, but not bad – now they have to be cleaned and iced.
Back in Cordova, Dennis shows off a beauty of a King – the Kings of Spring!
This one will be our dinner (and breakfast, and lunch…)

 

Dennis’s prime fish are cleaned and iced at sea, and then air-freighted directly to us, the rest are smoked or sold to the cannery.  From what I could see most other fishermen don’t bother to ice because all their fish go to the cannery for a set price. Cannery fish also face a week or more of travel to their final destination. After seeing how it works first hand, there is no question that our fish are the best quality possible.

 

We dropped the bruised fish (most of them) off at the cannery tender boat, trading them for gas (you think gas is expensive here!) and a hot cup of coffee and headed home. At the dock Tony’s fish went right into cooler boxes and his wife Alicia drove them straight to the airport – they should be at DIA in 24-36 hours.

 

To save money, cannery fish are loaded onto these containers to be barged to Anchorage or Seattle – not only do we get prime, unbruised fish that are cleaned and iced shortly after catch, our fish is flown right from the fishing boat so ours is MUCH fresher than most.
Cordova port – can you see the dancing lady and the bear on the mountain?  A couple of days with little sleep and a couple cold Alaska Ales and you can!  Look hard, they are facing opposite directions.
Downtown Cordova – the folks are wonderful, the food is hearty and it never seems to stop raining.
The Baja Taco bus was one of the best restaurants in town, actually it was GREAT!
The owner drives to Cordova for the summer and back to Baja California every winter.
The nets need a lot of work after every trip – here Dennis is hand mending tears from snags on rocks.
Maintaining the boat and packing an unpacking for trips is a LOT of work!
Occasionally something else gets in the net, but not much – we also got this crab, a ling cod and a Dolly Varden. 
The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall was in town, so the whole town turned out for a picnic.

 

I was lucky to catch this town BBQ near the Memorial Wall – Copper Kings grilled by a vet on the summer solstice with homemade side dishes and homemade cakes – it doesn’t get any better!
A local favorite – salmon covered with garlic salt, mayonnaise, peppers, onions and cheddar – um,,, well,,, a little different and not the way I would approach it, but not bad!   I grilled some teriyaki salmon satay as well as chicken fried Moose cube steaks – YUM!
Dennis can’t stay awake long after a 72 hour opener, one of the few times he wasn’t smiling the whole week.

Fishing for salmon with Dennis was a once in a lifetime trip – and it’s impossible to appreciate how much goes into catching and delivering the finest and freshest salmon in the world to Tony’s, and the dangers the fishermen face everyday.  These fishermen are a tough breed, and I’ll always appreciate every single bite of Copper River salmon with mindfulness and awe.

VIDEO

Hunters, Dennis also provides a guide service – Alaska’s Lonesome Dove Outfitters

Note: While Dennis is our favorite source for salmon, he’s not our only source, the season is long across and there are many inlets where salmon is fished in Alaska, so we work with other fishermen and brokers to constantly have wild salmon available at Tony’s Markets.  Buon Appetito – Salute!  Chef Mick Rosacci

Recipes with the next post – cheers and go buy some salmon!

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