Copper River Red Salmon run!


Fair notice here:  This post has little to do with photography and all to do with the huge, tasty, Copper River Red Salmon (Kings) that are caught in Prince William Sound this time of year.  One of the  longest salmon runs is the world is on!

While it starts mid-May in Alaska, those of use in the lower 48 can enjoy the rich, nutty, full flavor of the Copper River Red salmon (photos) through the month of June, and this year, probably well into July.  This year’s run is breaking all the records with over 469,000 salmon crossing the Cordova counting point, as of Sunday.

These salmon grab my attention because of their great taste/easy to grill factor, but also because I’ve spent some time over the last decade exploring the areas that they head to to spawn.  Chiefly, the vast, glacier-strewn area of our largest national park – Wrangell-St. Elias.

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We’ll be heading up to Wrangell-St. Elias in a couple of weeks and will cross the great Copper River at Chitina.  It’s here that we’ll stop to watch and photograph the dip/gil netters catching their share of the salmon run.  Alaskans are allowed a catch limit of salmon each year for their subsistence and they go after it with great enthusiasm.  With the salmon running so strong this year, we’re sure to see plenty of action along at Chitina Bridge!

As we start our 2.5 hour journey on the gravel McCarthy Rd. from Chitina, toward our destination of McCarthy, AK, we’ll pass a 2 mile lake at Mile 40 called Long Lake.  It is here that the sockeye salmon run ends.  It’s a long, arduous journey and the fish won’t arrive here until late August, early September.  It’s a distance of over 300 miles, made so can spawn where they were born.  Here are some of the salmon that have made the distance and are caught in the weir for data collection.

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In this image, it’s early September and my friend, Stephanie, measures the salmon, takes a scale sample and then releases the salmon back into the water so it’s spawn run can be completed.  In these small streams, one has to be watchful for both black and grizzly bears during the salmon run.  Stephanie’s daughter is always close by and keeps watch over her’s mom’s duties.  Here you can see how the data fluctuates from year to year.

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One of these years I want to take the float trip from McCarthy to Cordova to follow not only the route of the salmon, but also the route of the copper ore extracted from this area of Alaska from 1908 – 1938.  For you history buffs out there, some of the purest copper ore ever discovered was taken out of the hills pictured above.  For a brief history of the copper ore discovery and its extraction/transport via railroad to Cordova, you can read this or go here.  For an up close view, visit Wrangell-St. Elias National Park!  The park is THE most beautiful place that I’ve ever been and it continues to call me back almost annually.

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Kathy picked up quite a few big ‘steaks’ today and now our little, refrigerator freezer is stuffed full for when the run is over.  Costco has them available, as would your local fish market.  I like them grilled skin -side down over medium heat (cover down).  When I see the white fat oozing out of the flesh, I know they’re pretty much done.

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In the meantime, Ellie and Emma are enjoying the salmon as well!  What’s good for us is good for them.  Bon appetite Copper River style!  We’ll see all our McCarthy friends soon!

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