Looked out the window this morning and saw nervous water on the lake. Skipped breakfast. Three hens and a buck. I’ll cure eggs for ikura later today. Shioyaki salmon for dinner tonight. Beginning of our second week in Chignik Lake, Alaska.
Looked out the window this morning and saw nervous water on the lake. Skipped breakfast. Three hens and a buck. I’ll cure eggs for ikura later today. Shioyaki salmon for dinner tonight. Beginning of our second week in Chignik Lake, Alaska.
It felt good to finally get out on water. Prospecting for these handsomely marked grayling on a small river in Mongolia took us back to prospecting for trout in small waters in other places.
Nearly as translucent as water and marked like colored glass, the grayling’s dorsal fin…
By mid-September, autumn has come to Mongolia’s steppes and mountains. By the end of September, we’ll have had our first snows.
Sluggish with cold and dark with Autumn, one of the year’s last grasshoppers.
Yellows, golds and browns mixed with the blue-green of evergreens, predominant fall colors across this land. Here and there a touch of crimson.
Feet up. Water pours across the floorboards of the doorless Polaris Ranger. One of several crossings.
Not everyone made it.
Stringing up. Something between rumor and someone’s good authority sent us up to these headwaters, prospecting.
I stuck my camera into the icy water to get a photo of rocks speckled with caddis casings.
We encountered sporadic blue-winged olive mayflies. Rocks we flipped revealed caddis and stoneflies, a few loaches and this dragonfly nymph.
Possible water, but not promising. Larch trees yellowed by frost-laced mornings, pools in shaded feeder streams iced over.
It feels like a lifetime ago that we were on our boat in Alaska, filling coolers with a years’ worth of ocean bright salmon, halibut and rockfish to sustain us through months in the Arctic Bush. Back to roots – a fly rod, a small river, drifting nymphs and dries. Bone satisfying to once again feel the weight of a fish. Could be a rainbow stream in Colorado, cutthroat water in Oregon, a brookie creek in Pennsylvania or a yamame stream in Japan. It all feels like home.
Barbra’s first grayling and her first fish in Mongolia.
We hiked and drove and hiked some more. At last we found the water I’d been looking for – the right depth, the right flow, the right-sized boulders breaking up the bottom at the right intervals. And there in front of us, tens of fish materialized out of nothing – out of water as clear as air – porpoising and splashing across a run maybe 60 feet long and half that width in pursuit of something tiny emerging from the water. Several times these grayling rocketed completely out of the water as they threw themselves at our mayfly patterns. A number of times we were both hooked up, simultaneously.
Eight inches or eighty pounds… It never gets old. The grayling were still feeding when we left, reluctantly, the sun low behind clouds.
A backward look…
Grayling. Grayling water. Mongolia…
This video (see link below) showing a beaver dam being blasted sky high by Wisconsin Wildlife Services in the name of “improving habitat for trout” left us speechless. This particular detonation took place on the upper reaches of Wisconsin’s Wolf River, a National Scenic River. We’re interested to know what readers think of this strategy for managing wildlife and natural resources.
Beaver ponds such as this one in British Columbia represent biologically rich, exceptionally diverse, constantly changing micro-habitats within the larger forest.The many snags (dead trees) in this pond represent feeding opportunities for woodpeckers as well as potential cavity nesting sites for a variety pf species of birds and mammals. Eventually, this pond will become silted in, the beavers will leave, and a beaver meadow will replace the pond. These meadows, free from the shade of the forest canopy and with a bed of thick, fertile soil create places where unique species of flowers and other plants thrive. Black bears are among the many animals that visit these meadows to graze on the grasses and berries that may not exist elsewhere in the forest. The meadow itself will eventually be replaced by mature hardwood forest. So it has been in North America for thousands and thousands of years, with trout, beavers, bears and berries co-evolving.
The setting is a small stream in a Wisconsin forest. The water has been dammed by beavers. Because the pool of water created by the beavers may become too warm for healthy brook trout populations and because beaver dams can block the migration of these native trout, fishermen complained. Enter the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the United States Forest Service, the Wisconsin Wildlife Services and several pounds of explosives. Although government officials occasionally remove beaver dams in order to prevent flooding of roads, make no mistake, most of these dam removals in Wisconsin are for one reason and one reason only: “The purpose of our work is to create a free-flowing stream for the benefit of the trout to be able to migrate up and down.”
See video at: http://www.nbcnews.com/video/government-blasts-away-beaver-dams-475081283719
In a recent three-year period, Wisconsin Wildlife Services removed over 2,000 beaver dams. According to the NBC News report cited above, government officials in Wisconsin use explosives on about 150 dams annually. The beavers are trapped and the dams are destroyed in order to …”(maintain)… one of the natural resources we’ve got for the public to enjoy, trout fishing…”
Barbra and I watched this video and listened to these comments with our jaws hanging open. Speechless. After about two minutes, the video came to an end.
“Wow,” was all we could manage to articulate at first. And then again, “Wow.”
For the past day, we’ve been researching this issue as thoroughly as we’re able to, reaching out to Trout Unlimited groups in Wisconsin and kicking our own thoughts around between each other. We haven’t reached any conclusions. But we do have a few observations.
If… if… the chief or only goal of environmental stewardship were to improve brook trout habitat, Wisconsin’s beaver management strategy might deserve a round of applause. Brook trout thrive in cold, free-flowing streams that feature clean, silt-free rock and gravel bottoms. Temperatures in beaver ponds can hit 70 degrees or more under the summer sun, near the upper limits of what these native char can tolerate and well above their preferred temperature range of 55 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit (12 – 18 degrees C). And because brook trout have very specific requirements for successful spawning – small, clean gravel where upwelling from springs occurs – it’s critical that they be able to access these areas during the fall spawning season.
So just blow up the beaver dams, right?
Not so fast.
After a long winter in Alaska, this young moose finds a meal in the upper reaches of a north country beaver pond.
Beaver ponds represent dynamic, ever-changing micro-habitats that foster some of the greatest species diversity in the forests where they are found. We’re for biodiversity. As much as we enjoy trout fishing, we would never wish that our desire to catch a particular species of fish be placed above the overall health of an ecosystem.
During the life of the beaver pond, it can provide vital habitat for all kinds of animals. As trees are drowned, they become snags. (One Wisconsin DNR report stated simply that “beaver dams kill trees” – an example of how a statement can be both completely true and completely misleading. Dead trees are part of every healthy forest.) Pileated woodpeckers and other woodpeckers utilize these snags as forage bases and nesting sites. The cavities woodpeckers create in turn become nesting sites for flying squirrels, owls, wood ducks, and host of other mammals and birds. Meanwhile, these ponds become important stop-over or seasonal habitat for a variety of waterfowl and often attract shore nesting species. Tree swallows, flycatchers and similar passerines thrive in the edge habitat created by the beavers’ activity. Again, the snags provide nesting sites, and the cleared airspace above the insect-rich pond creates excellent feeding opportunities for insect eating birds as well as for bats.
The pond itself becomes one the most biologically rich systems in the forest – perhaps the most biologically rich. Everything from burrowing mayflies to dragonflies and damselflies to a variety of aquatic beetles inhabit these waters. Amphibians such as newts, salamanders, toads and frogs depend on these these ponds as well, which provide vital nurseries for their young. Aquatic and semi-aquatic snakes take advantage of the smorgasbord, and in turn may provide a meal for a hawk. Deer, moose, turkeys and grouse are among the frequent visitors to the edge habitat found along the shores of beaver ponds.
Silt prevented by the dam from moving downstream eventually creates a rich bed of mud which in turn fosters the growth of aquatic vegetation. This vegetation may provide a meal for a moose or a migrating duck, a nursery for the young of certain fish species, a place for a tiger salamander to attach its eggs, or an ambush post for a predacious diving beetle. What’s best for trout is not necessarily best for the countless other species that depend on the habitat created by beaver ponds. Healthy stream and forest systems feature a variety of habitats.
One of several stunning flowers we photographed last summer along the shores of a beaver pond.
Moreover, because these dams cause water to pool, some of that water percolates down into subterranean aquifers. This should be an important consideration in a state that is rapidly pumping its aquifers dry. The particular stream in question, the upper reaches of the Wolf River, becomes vital lake sturgeon spawning habitat further down river. As the underground aquifers beaver dams contribute to resurface in the form of springs further downstream, these springs cool the main river, which helps ensure that lake sturgeon spawn successfully. Take away the beaver dams upstream, and you take away a piece of a complex system which countless species have evolved to thrive in.
Eventually these ponds become overly silted, increasingly shallow and the beavers move on. Over time, the dams break up, the stream cuts a familiar channel, often finds a rock bed again. What’s left behind is a beaver meadow – a place with thick, rich soil capable of supporting an incredible variety of trees, flowers and grasses. For the overall health of the forest, it’s a good thing that these dams retain forest soil. Butterflies take advantage of the abundance of flowers, deer and bears come for the grass, and the snags – the trees that died when they became flooded – continue to provide nesting sites for a variety of animals till the day they fall to the earth and become nursery logs.
It’s important to keep one other fact in mind. Salvalinus fontinalis, the native char most fishermen refer to as the brook trout, has been co-evolving with beavers and beaver dams for longer than humans have been on the North American continent. This sudden need to “manage” wildlife is an outcome of an ongoing series of humankind’s mismanagement of this planet.
All this being said, it may appear that we’ve made up our minds on this issue.
Between the absence of sufficient natural predation and insufficient economic incentive for more beavers to be trapped for their pelts, we understand that it is entirely possible that Wisconsin’s beaver population is out of balance. This would seem to present three options:
We’re sure there’s more to the beaver situation in Wisconsin than we currently realize. We’d love to hear what others think. Thanks for reading.
Jack & Barbra
Bread crumbs tossed in olive oil and baked to a crisp give a pleasant crunch to this classic Mediterranean dish which traditionally features salted cod and potatoes in a mousse-like entrée.
Full disclosure. Here in Ulaanbaatar, we are about as geographically removed from the nearest walleye as could be possible. In fact, as the crow flies we’re over 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) from the Walleye Capital of the World, Lake Erie, in my former stomping grounds of western Pennsylvania. So I used cod in this classic brandade-inspired dish. In fact, this dish originated in regions around the Mediterranean Sea such as Italy and France where at certain times of the year the only fish readily available was preserved salted cod. The steps in preparing this dish do a nice job of masking the strong flavor of preserved fish, something you won’t have to worry about if you have access to fresh walleye, rockfish, striped bass, crappie or similar fish.
And it’s delicious – the kind of fish dish even people not particularly crazy about fish enjoy. Experiment with seasonings to give it some heat, herbiness or lemon flavors. Brandade can be baked in an oven-safe frying pan, a casserole dish, or, perhaps best of all, in individual ramekins such as the one we used in the above photo. Dress it up with a little chopped parsley and a dollop of lumpfish roe, pair with a Riesling, and dinner is served.
Brandade of Walleye (or virtually any white-meated fish)
Ingredients (serves two)
This tiny jellyfish and the octopus behind it are about the size of a pencil led, translucent, and barely visible to the naked eye. Key species near the base of the food web such as herring, sardines, menhaden and mullet routinely ingest plastic fragments as they filter the water for the nutritious plankton they feed on.
Pacific herring feed by facing into the current, hanging their jaws open, and sifting out tiny plants and animals. As plastics break down into fragments – as all plastics from discarded shopping bags to cigarette butts eventually do – the fragments mix in with the rest of the planktonic drift and are consumed by small fish… which are in turn consumed by larger fish, whales, sea lions and us.
The tethered balloon that slipped from a child’s hand
The monofilament net the fisherman left hanging on a reef
The cigarette butt that doesn’t matter
and shopping bags,
and Christmas ribbons,
and cups used only once
and the plastic packaging
inside the shopping bags,
the throw-away toys
inside the Christmas package
the straws and the lids on the used-once cups
are smothering our oceans
and everything in our oceans
These photos were taken at the Seward Sea Life Center in Seward, Alaska. Visit an aquarium today to learn more about what you can do to help keep our oceans clean and healthy.
Reason #1: Because baby orcas need milk, and this mother needs a healthy diet of wild salmon to produce that milk. (Orca mother and offspring, Gulf of Alaska)
Reason #2: Because Monica’s pregnant and eating for three. (Brown bear affectionately named Monica by local park rangers, Salmon Creek, Hyder, Alaska)
Reason #3: Because the ocean is full of nutrients which salmon embody as they return to their natal rivers and streams, and salmon forests thrive on salmon fertilizer courtesy of all the bears, eagles, mink, crows, ravens, otters, foxes and other animals that eat salmon. (Wild currants, Ptarmigan Creek, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska)
Reason #4: Because this merganser needs to find fresh salmon eggs to keep her brood well fed and growing. (Common mergansers, Salmon Creek, Hyder, Alaska)
Reason # 5: Because a meal cooked under starlight after a day of fishing with your best friend tastes better than that same meal would anywhere else. (Tumalo State Park, Deschutes River, central Oregon)
Reason #6: Because what’s good for salmon and trout rivers is also good for so many of the other things in life we love. (Wild turkeys, American River, Sacramento, California)
Reason #7: Because farmed salmon can’t put a smile like that on a friend’s face. (Barbra Donachy, first king salmon, Resurrection Bay, Seward, Alaska)
Reason #8: Because we don’t want to live in a world where biodiversity is limited to what can be grown on a farm, raised in a pen, or crammed onto a feedlot. (Sea lions, California North Coast, Bodega Bay, California)
Reason #9: Because girls who grow up fishing with their dads…
…become women who fish with their dads. (Above: Maia Donachy drifting an elk hair caddis in the Deschutes Canyon, central Oregon. Below: Maia with a hoochie-caught silver salmon gorged with herring, Cape Resurrection, Alaska)
And reason #10: Because salmon make a landscape more beautiful.
Top photos: spawning sockeye salmon. Bottom photo: spawning chum salmon.
About Trout Unlimited: For 54 years, TU has been a leader in ensuring that we have cold, clean rivers and streams for generations to come. From Northern California to Alaska’s Tongass Forest, from Bristol Bay to the Appalachian Mountains, TU has been instrumental in getting dams removed from rivers where they do more harm than good, keeping mining and drilling out of our most fragile ecosystems, and protecting trout and salmon forests. At the same time, TU has been dedicated to educating and involving the next generation of environmental stewards – our children and grandchildren. As illustrated above, TU’s efforts benefit much more than trout and salmon. Click here to find out how you can become a member: Trout Unlimited.
With or without lobster mushrooms (see photo below), this quick, easy seafood soup is one of our wintertime favorites.
The inspiration for this recipe comes from A. J. McClane’s excellent cookbook, North American Fish Cookery. McClane’s original recipe is sans mushrooms and calls for lobster, but the basic stock – milk and cheddar cheese seasoned with nutmeg – lends itself to a variety of innovations. The first time we created this dish we substituted grilled steelhead for the lobster. Other iterations have featured broiled or grilled salmon, smoked salmon, and Alaska shrimp. In fact, we’ve never used lobster, and although freshly ground nutmeg remains a must in our soup, we usually spice it up with the addition of ground smoked chipotles or other peppers and smoked sea salt. Most recently we made this soup with our own canned smoked red salmon, lobster mushrooms and red bell pepper.
Ready for soup: a lobster mushroom, nutmeg, our own blend of smoked chipotles and other seasoning, and a jar of smoked Copper River red salmon.
Salmon Cheddar Soup
We enjoyed this soup with homemade biscuits.
This Chukchi Sea Dolly Varden Char was liberally salted, broiled and served with roasted Peruvian potatoes and garlic cloves. Salt grilling or broiling brings out the natural sweetness of species ranging from porgy and snapper to trout, char and salmon.
When a friend recently presented us with two harvested-from-the-ocean-this-morning char, we knew immediately what we wanted to do with one of them: shioyaki. Although Japanese cuisine is better known for sushi and sashimi, far more fresh fish on Japanese tables is served well salted and then broiled or grilled.
The Japanese eat a lot of fish, and it is for good reason that shioyaki fish is weekly fare in most households. It’s quick, it’s easy, and fish prepared this way are deliciously savory and sweet. This is also an excellent method for preparing freshly caught trout while camping. Simply clean the catch, skewer it lengthwise, cut a few shallow slashes into the skin, rub salt on the fish and roast it on an open fire or over a grill. Brook trout served this way make for memorable camp fare, as do Japanese iwana (char).
This pair of sea run Dolly Varden char have all the characteristics of fresh fish: bright, clear eyes, firm, nicely colored flesh, and no evidence of bruising.
Because the fish are seasoned only with salt (and perhaps the smoke from a grill or fire), it is imperative that it be absolutely fresh. When you’re purchasing fish, look for a healthy shine, bright colors and clear, bright eyes. The scales should be intact and the gills, if any remain, should be bright red. Don’t be shy about giving a fish you’re considering purchasing a whiff. It should smell clean. Fish does not smell fishy; it is bacteria growing on poorly cared for or old fish that carries the unpleasant smell often called “fishy.”
Salt-Broiled Whole Fish
This dish requires no further adornment and is delicious with a glass of cold sparkling water, a craft ale, or a fine daiginjyo sake.
Simple and elegant, cedar plank cooking has been part of the Pacific Northwest since early native Americans first discovered this method. Food such as these these stuffed Portabella caps lend themselves to leisurely evenings complimented with good wine and good friends.
The most difficult thing in cedar plank grilling is remembering to soak the planks before you’re ready to fire up the grill. Aluminum foil is the solution. Although it’s best to soak the planks hours in advance of cooking, they also work perfectly well soaked just a short time prior to going on the grill provided they’re placed in a shallow aluminum foil “boat” with a little liquid added. Fold up the corners of the foil, pour in a little water or water and white wine, and you’re ready! Grilled on cedar, salmon and other foods come out wonderfully moist and take on smokey, woodsy flavors.
Grilled over charcoal, caramelized corn on the cob and pineapple rings go well with stuffed mushrooms.
Right: A split, whole king salmon self-bastes on cedar planks over hot charcoal.
Although cedar is popular, alder, hickory and boards from fruit trees work well too. Thoroughly cleaned, the boards can be used multiple times. Since plank cooking creates a barrier between the coals and the food, cooking time will be a little longer. In addition to preserving moistness and imbuing food with more complex flavors, planking typically results in more evenly cooked food than straight charcoal grilling.
Cedar-Planked Portabella Mushrooms Stuffed with Smoked Salmon and Manchego Cheese
An Italian Amarone – a full-bodied red wine with lots of cherry – pairs especially well with a cedar-planked feast.
For the past couple of years, our brining and smoking method for salmon, trout, sturgeon and other fish has been the most popular article on our blog. Here it is again, with updated notes and photos.
If you’ve ever looked at those electric smokers sold in sporting goods stores and wondered if they did the job, the short answer is, “They do.” Our favorites are the Big Chief, Little Chief and Mini Chief models made by Smokehouse in Hood River Valley Oregon. Inexpensive, easy to use, easy to store and efficient, these smokers come with complete directions and a useful booklet that details the how-to of smoking and provides a number of recipes for fish, shellfish, poultry, meat, cheese, and even noodles, soup and breads. My own most recent experiment with smoking was sea salt. It came out… smokey!
To obtain the best smoked fish, start with high-quality fish. Fresh fillets from bright fish make for a far better product than poorly cared for fillets from a badly handled fish. Also – and this is important -the method we use is not designed to kill parasites. It is recommended that fish be frozen at the lowest freezer setting possible for at least seven days before smoking them in order to ensure that they are parasite-free. You can read NOAA’s full recommendations here.
Below: A double batch of sockeye salmon in side-by-side Big Chief smokers.
For salmon, trout, sturgeon and similar fish with fairly firm meat, we marinate fillets in a wet brine for roughly six to 10 hours depending on the size and thickness of the fish or fillets. The fish can be brined in non-reactive glass, plastic or stainless steel (not aluminum) pans in the refrigerator or in a bucket or cooler with a couple of sealed Ziplock bags of ice thrown in to keep the mixture cool. Following are the step-by-step instructions we use for whole small trout and the fillets of salmon and other fish. The recipe can easily be modified to add other flavors or to finish the smoked fish with a sesame seed glaze.
Ingredients: For eight pounds of salmon, trout, sturgeon or other fish