Monday, February 28, 2011

Bill Matthies

I know this topic is not "all things related to the Kenai" although he has been to Alaska a couple of times, but today I wanted to write about Jane's father, my father-in-law, Bill Matthies, and the week that he had. On Tuesday a couple of things happened. In the morning Bill was interviewed by Alix Kendall of KMSP Channel 9 about ice diving in Minnesota. The five minute interview was informative and it was a nice tribute to his career. Then, later that evening, Bill was reappointed to the Civil Service Commission for the City of Brainerd, Minnesota. That makes 19 years of self less giving to the city in which he lives. Finally, at the end of the week and the creme de la creme, Bill was awarded the Diving Community Contribution Award by the Great Lakes Preservation Society (acceptance photo above). He jokingly said that all you have to do is get old to receive these accolades. Be that as it may, it is impressive and a fact that my father-in-law is the oldest PADI certified instructor in the WORLD. Way to go Bill!

I thought I'd share one quick story about my father-in-law and this has something to do with fishing. Several years ago in the fall, Bill picked me up at the Brainerd airport. I was flying in from Alaska to go fishing in Ontario for a week. When he met me he said he didn't get it that I would "take a break from fishing to go fishing." You have to understand this comment came from a non fisherman. Anyway, I said "Bill, when you aren't teaching commercial diving what do you do for fun? Dive, I bet." He agreed and I told him we both enjoy what we do and we're lucky. You know, as I think about that conversation I realize that doing what I do for a living is not the only thing that makes me lucky. Marrying his daughter and being part of his family makes me lucky as well.

Make sure to check back tomorrow to read about "all things related to the Kenai."

Monday, February 21, 2011

How To Smoke Salmon

When sharing smoked salmon with others I am often asked what's my secret. I usually respond by saying that there is no secret. If you start with good fish you'll end with a good product (conversely, garbage in is garbage out). There is no one right way to smoke salmon but there are certain steps that should be followed to do it right.

First of all, you need to catch a salmon. What happens next is important. Make sure that the salmon is properly bled and the fish is kept cool prior to filleting. After filleting, keep the skin on and cut into desired chunks. I usually cut strips that are a couple of inches wide and five or six inches long. Shrinkage occurs during the smoking process so you don't want to cut your chunks too small. If you cut the chunks too large you won't have enough surface area for the brine to work in to the meat.

The next part of the equation is your brine. This is where differences occur depending upon taste. I use what Jane describes as generic brine that won't offend any taste buds. Here it is:

Kenai Keith's Famous Salmon Brine

3 quarts of cold water

1 1/2 cups of non iodized salt

1 1/2 cups of brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp garlic salt

3/4 tsp lemon pepper

9 tsp of lemon juice

9 bay leaves

Brine should be thoroughly mixed in a glass or plastic bowl (aluminum or wood should not be used). The brine should be kept as cool as possible and if you plan to reuse it make sure to refrigerate. Brine can be used 2-3 times and should not be kept for more than 1 week. Place your salmon chunks in the brine. How long you soak your fillets depends upon how thick they are. In general, I place red and silver salmon in the brine for 3 hours; king salmon for 6 hours.

After you remove your fillets from the brine, lightly rinse with cold water and place on paper towels or newspapers to air dry. This is an IMPORTANT part of the smoking process to air dry and allow a "pellicle" to form on the outside of the fillet (glossy look). Air drying should take at least an hour but depending on the humidity it could take longer. Your fillets will never be completely dry during this stage but most of the moisture needs to evaporate .

While your fillets are are drying it's time to get your smoker started. Whether you have an electric "Little Chief" smoker, a Dick Miller Super Delux, or whether you've made your own you need to preheat the smoker prior to placing the fillets in. Your smoker temperature should be between 145-175 degrees and the smoker wood chips should be smoking before putting your fillets in. I have found the best wood chips to use for fish are alder. It's mild and seems to impart the perfect amount of smoke flavor.

After the air drying is complete and your smoker is at the proper temperature and your smoker is smoking, it's time to place your fillets in. During the first couple of hours you'll want to check the temperature and refill the wood chip pan at least two times. How long it will take to fully smoke your salmon will depend on humidity and air temperature. Some times it has taken me six hours and some times a full day. How you can tell when your smoking is done is by looking at the color (deep red/golden brown) of the fillet inside and out. This is a good time to try a sample. If you've never had hot smoked salmon right out of the smoker about the only thing that equals it would be chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven Mmmmmm, mmmmm good! The top photo is what a finished product should look like.

Let your smoked salmon cool down before vacuum sealing or placing in an airtight container. I wouldn't recommend freezing your smoked salmon because when it's thawed out its mushy. At that point it's only good for making into a dip.

That's it. Pretty simple stuff. If you have other recipes such as a cajun or teriyaki brine, feel free to post them on the comment section of this post.

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Cloud Sportsmen's Show Recap

A friend of mine has been posting a video blog of his fishing reports and after watching a few of them I decided I needed to do this as well. This is my first attempt at inserting a video on the blog so bear with me while I work out the kinks. I hope to be adept at recording and editing by the time the ice is off the Kenai River.

Last weekend Jane and I were at the St. Cloud Sportsmen's Show and it was great to meet all the people who are interested in coming to Alaska. It was certainly as fun, if not more fun, to spend time with those friends that have already been up. It was great to see the Miller's, the Stacken's, Alan Frerich, Al and Nick Witte, and especially Dan and Mary Meyer. Dan and Mary drove 7 1/2 hours from Peoria, Illinois to visit and help us at the booth. We certainly enjoyed their company and their unique perspective they bring as frequent visitors to Alaska It helped us present how special a trip to the Kenai can be.

Hope you enjoy the addition of video to my posts.

(p.s. Thanks to Will Robertson for the photo)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Managing Your Expectations

Realistic expectations of the Kenai River experience is what this post is all about. I have had the good fortune of guiding many accomplished anglers from all over the world and I have also had the pleasure of guiding people to their first fishing adventure ever. A large component of making sure the trip is a successful one is managing the expectations before they take a step into my boat. This is usually done by phone, email, or in person at a sport show, and it's done well before the trip even begins. I want no surprises and I want people to know and understand what can and can not happen on the river.

Let me start by saying that a guide can not, nor should ever guarantee a fish. That is not what it's all about. Granted, you are on a guided fishing trip, not a scenic cruise, but the guarantee should be about an opportunity to catch fish and about the entire fishing experience. If we all have this understanding before we hit the water then the trip will be a success. It reminds me of a saying that one of my guide friends likes to use, "....if you sell the fishing, the catching will take care of itself." I've been amazed how often this statement rings true. The people that are happy just to get out actually outfish the people that define their entire vacation by whether or not they kill a fish.

Now the "opportunity" to catch fish is different for everyone and I always want to be crystal clear about the action that can be expected. For instance, if you come in May, June, or July to fish for king salmon I tell everyone to prepare of a long day on the water. If you come in August or September for pink and silver salmon you will have a lot of action. When it comes to king salmon fishing patience is a must and not everyone will catch fish on the trip. In fact, I usually explain that over the years a good catch rate for king salmon is 25%. That's one in four anglers retaining a fish! Oh sure, some days everyone in the boat catches a king, but there are also days when no one catches a fish. That's just the way it goes when you're chasing king salmon. On the other hand, it is very rare that we don't catch fish in August and September. Pink and silver salmon are great fish to introduce families to fishing because the catching is usually pretty darn good.

If you know me, you know that I like to talk and occasionaly get off topic (ha!) but I remember a conversation I overheard years ago at the local tackle store. It's a great example of managing expectations. This conversation was between someone new to Alaska and one of the oldest, most respected guides in our community. It went like this:

"Are you a guide? I'd like to catch a king salmon on the famous Kenai."


"Can you take me out?"


"Will I catch so many fish that my arms will get tired?"

"I guarantee you your butt will fall asleep before your arms get tired."

"I thought this was Alaska. I thought you're suppose to catch fish all the time."

"This is the Kenai and it's king season. If you want action, come in the fall."

A good guide will tell you what to expect truthfully. A poor guide will tell you what you want to hear and then make excuses all day long about why fish aren't being caught. It all boils down to ethics and hopefully during the "interview" of your guide you'll be able to to distinguish if he or she is being upfront with you or not. A little hint: if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.

A few comments about the photos. If you follow the blog, I'm sure you've seen the guys in the top photo before. Jeff and Brian, "Team ABC", have done a lot of fishing on the Kenai and they have fished nearly every month and have experienced all the different run timings on the river. They have filled their coolers and they have also gone home empty handed. As you can see by the king salmon in the photo they didn't exactly set the world on fire. But, they had a great time (Brian will say he had a better time because his fish was bigger) and the best thing for me is they keep coming back. The next photo is one of those magical days that happens a couple of times a summer. Definitely not the norm on the Kenai. The final photo is a typical fish box filled with silver and pink salmon caught in August.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Red Salmon Forecast for 2011

To quote our local newspaper, the 2011 forecast for red salmon is "sunny". Pat Shields, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game of Commercial Fisheries projects a total red salmon run of 6.4 million in the Upper Cook Inlet with a harvest expectation of 4.4 to 4.8 million fish. This is about a million more fish than last year.

Do I hear a "YEAH, BABY!" out there in cyberland?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Enough Snow For Ya?

As I write this blizzard warnings have been issued from Oklahoma to Maine. For fun I thought I would post a couple of pictures that were taken right after I returned to Alaska from the Minnesota Sportsmen's Show. A side note: it was -39 when I left Minnesota, 25 above in Anchorage.

The first photo is my truck after digging half of it out. I took this photo after I stopped to catch my breath and I thought the "mohawk" look was interesting. The second photo was taken at the headwaters of the Kenai River at Cooper Landing on 1/27/2011. If you look close the guy in the back of the drift boat is actually fighting a trout and the guy in the front is about to net it. When they originally hooked the fish they were on the side of the boat where I could see everything. When they noticed me on the shoreline they decided to switch to the other side of the boat so I wouldn't see what they were catching. Fisherman are funny that way, aren't they?

Stay warm and make sure to take a break when shoveling.