Slammin’ Salmon on the Kenai

When Life gives you Lemons . . .

Turn them into salmon dreams. . .

We have been absolutely loving this new adventure, (currently in Alaska) in our renovated shorty school bus.  We ferried up the Alaska Inland passage to Haines, then drove to Destruction Bay, TOK, North Pole, Fairbanks, Dead horse / Prudhoe Bay, Denali, with spectacular views and animals dotting the way.

Nothing but smooth sailing in the mother ship, Tomás, as she is called. Oops spoke too soon, a fuel injector pump on the fritz in Anchorage left us stranded there for eighteen days without transportation or a place to stay. After two nights in a shoddy, but expensive, hotel and three more nights in a ramshackle dive of a hotel/ brothel/wayside for ne’r-do-wells, we found ourselves couch surfing at a local residence with 4 young adults 1 teenage schoolgirl (a refugee from The Ukraine), and the very generous owner, Wil.

If you have been following my wife’s blog, you know the details of “Anchored in Anchorage”.

This could have been looked upon as a less than enjoyable experience.

For me, the anchoring paved the way to a life-long dream to fish the big salmon of Alaska.

Wil knew one of the couch surfers (Tj) who knew someone on the Keani Peninsula (Steven) who knew someone with a boat (Dick) who loved to spin tales of yester year—while fishing of course.

T.J. and Viktoria
Steve (with Kevin)

This set my mind spinning and conjuring ways to formulate an encounter with all of these someone’s. While spending time with the other guests and boarders at Wil’s and hanging around Anchorage I found my mind constantly returning to the fish on the Kenai. 

Tomás could not get out of the hospital fast enough for me. A week and a half later, armed with just one phone introduction to Steven and a good luck send off from Tj, Andi and I headed off for the Kenai. We were taking our time as there were sights to see and glaciers to climb. On the way we received a call from Tj. It appeared there was a big weekend salmon fest in Ninilchick. This was on the peninsula south of the Kenai River. She and Viktoria, the Ukrainian student, were going. She was going to be spending the weekend right next door to Steven. What great news I would have a firsthand introduction to fisherman Steve. The excitement got me going but before I knew it, I was brought back into reality by the words, “Honey, don’t you think you’re driving a little fast?”

We rolled into the place where Tj was staying and out popped Steve, a cheerful, young engineer. He and his wife had moved from California two years prior, after one visit and a fishing trip. Steve just happened to be heading out to meet with Dick, the boat guy, for dinner. With a quick introduction he said he’d see if Dick had room on the boat.    

Andi made a wonderful dinner and as we talked about fishing possibilities the phone rang.

“Hello this is Kevin”

“Kevin, Steve here. Can you be ready at 5:30 in the morning”

“I’ll be waiting on your porch with coffee for you. How do you take it?”

I would say “click” but phones don’t make that sound anymore.

Pow! Yipeee! “I’m in,” I yelled to Andi with fishin’ joy.

Next morning suiting up in chest waders and cold weather gear, pole in hand we met Dick, his long-time friend, Kim, and his grandson. Dick in his eighties, has lived in Alaska a big portion of his life with lots of fishing knowledge and stories to tell. Just a wonderful man.

Dick took us to a spot away from the crowd where just one other guide was taking people.

Growing up fishing, I caught many fish. Mainly smaller fish like trout, catfish, bass and croppie, rarely ever hooking into a salmon or steelhead. If I did it was after a long boat ride sitting and waiting, trolling, and waiting and more waiting and if I was lucky come home with one.

Not this day, or the next. The limit was six Sockeye salmon and six Pinks.

Steve, very ambitious and eager to show the newbie how things were done around here, got me right out of the boat into thigh-high, swift running water. showing me the art of the “Flip and floss”.

Most guys use a heavier duty fly pole and reel. You stand facing upriver, let out somewhere between fifteen and thirty feet of line, flip the line out upriver (no casting or reeling) let the hook sink until you feel it bounce on the bottom and follow it with your pole as the current takes it down river. Slowly and steadily you pull the pole back upriver until you feel a small tug.

Then it’s on. Set the hook and enjoy the fun. The fight and the fun standing in the Kenai River was epic. The sun came out and flip after flip the salmon were on.

 It was beyond belief the fun my new friends and I had those two days.

Knowing that I may not have the opportunity to be back in Alaska for a long time I was more than willing to pay for guides to help fulfill my angler’s lust. These guys were just so nice, going out of their way to help let a little kid live out a childhood dream, they told me my money was no good here in Alaska and wouldn’t even let me pitch in for gas. Thanks Wil, Tj, Steven, Dick, Kim, Carlos, and grandkids.


Wait what to do with all the booty?

Well talkative Tj comes through again. This girl is a world traveler and has made many connections in her travels. She knows a guy and introduces me to Toto, yes like the little dog on Wizard of Oz. Real nice German guy living further south on the peninsula. He lives in a modest cabin in the sticks with several outbuildings and a lot of stuff. The stuff includes a smoker and canning equipment. He keeps in standing with the Alaskan generosity and invites us to stay at his place for a few days where we can smoke and can our catch.

With a sad but very appreciative heartfelt goodbye to Steve and the fishing gang, Andi and I head out.

With a quick stop at the hardware store for canning jars, smoke chips and other canning supplies Andi plots course for our new destination Toto in Kasilof Alaska.

Now Toto is a guy who has been around a bit and knows the value of items when you might need just that one thing and not be able to get it. Hence my comment earlier about lots of stuff.  He moved to Kasilof over a year prior from Anchorage where he worked a deal with the buyer to let him keep stuff there for a year. Well time has a way of catching up with us all, so . . . he was still moving a tremendous amount of stuff out of his old house and shop plus stuff from another house he had sold.

His new place was big enough but in his last-minute haste he was loading and unloading everywhere.

The guy needed a little help getting organized. To show a little of our own friendliness I helped out—cleaning, moving firewood, file cabinets, lumber, tarps, toolboxes, well, you get it.

Upon our arrival Toto dug out the smoker and canning equipment. He cooked us salmon bits and a salad for dinner. This guy ate healthy.  We sat and ate with engaging conversation, Toto shared tips about smoking and canning and his Alaskan life. With a game plan for the morning, we hit the sack.

With excitement in my bones, I jumped up in the morning to get started. Let see, what was the plan? Start the smoker? Get the canner fire going? Oh yeah brine the salmon with tips from Steve whose were different from Dicks whose were different from Toto’s. . . well here goes.

While the salmon to be smoked were brining, I scaled and chopped while Andi seasoned and packed. Jalapeno, garlic, smoked, spicy even BBQ. We were throwing caution to the wind with the seasoning. I’m sure some will not be what we planned but equally I know some will be perfect never to be repeated because nothing was written down.   

As we travel along enjoying our pink culinary delights, I can’t help but look back at our time “Anchored in Anchorage” and realize time spent there set the stage for me to achieve something that I could only imagine for all these years. Slamming salmon on the Kenai.

Smoked salmon for the road


9 thoughts on “Slammin’ Salmon on the Kenai”

  1. Great blog Kevin! Glad you got to experience such a wonderful dream. Your open hearts and adventurous spirits take you to amazing places.

  2. How wonderful life can be sometimes, how it just takes you from one adventure to the next. And how Awesome are the people and joy that can be found in places you would have never thought to look! Keep em coming!!!

  3. Wow, what a stumbling sequence of events to find yourself fulfilling your dream of fishing salmon in Alaska. And flossing for sockeye is difficult to learn, not everyone can master it. But you sure did! Congratulations.
    Bonus is being able to enjoy it on the rest of your adventures. Awesome!

  4. A fantastically written post!! What a great story and even better memory! I’m glad you were able to live out a childhood dream! From the sampling that I had, every flavor of the salmon was delicious! Great job!

    1. I think we were too shy with the seasonings. Everything is good but could have been bolder flavor. We are saving one can to eat in Argentina.

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