Sunday, 23 September 2012 00:00

Mountain Salmon Canning

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOne of the things we miss the most after moving into the mountains is the saltwater and all of its bounty. Laurie and I fished for salmon and bottom fish, dug fresh clams, and caught Dungeness crab in Laurie’s crab pot. That’s right, Laurie’s crab pot. She got it for her birthday!

We both grew up in Bellingham, WA in the northwest corner of the state. When I was a teenager I water skied in the saltwater almost every day. Laurie’s family sailed the San Juan Islands and camped on many of them growing up.

My dad was a commercial fisherman and as a teen I reef netted and gillnetted with my Dad. Laurie put herself through college gillnetting with her brother. Needless to say we miss the salt water.

Moving calls for adaption to our surroundings. We bought a little crawdad trap for the lake a few miles from us. We haven’t caught anything yet but we will. We just need to leave it there for a few days, something we haven’t had time to do yet.

We’ve also learned to catch one variety of fish in the same lake called Kokanee or Silver Trout. These fish are planted by the State. They are raised in a hatchery where we both come from on Lake Whatcom. My company did the last remodel and expansion for the hatchery in the 90’s so I got a firsthand account of how it is done.

Kokanee trout are actually land locked sockeye salmon. Every fall they go up the creek next to the hatchery in Lake Whatcom where they are caught and processed just like salmon at hatcheries all over the state. The result is fish that are large enough to transplant in lakes for sport fishing.

These fish vary in size from lake to lake. In Lake Whatcom where they are hatched they are only 10” to 12” long. In some lakes they can get up to 14” in length. Ours are 12” to 14”. I’ve caught them in four different lakes over the years.

We start catching them in the spring when the ice thaws, take a break midsummer, and start back up during the fall months. We pressure can them and eat them all year long, mostly in sandwiches in lieu of tuna fish. I use them for salad in place of tuna as well. The taste is slightly different than canned salmon but not by much. It is my favorite fresh water fish to eat – fried, baked, or canned.

When they get into the 14” range they are so fat I can skin and fillet and basically debone them just like we do with salmon. That is what I did with the fish in the picture above before we canned them. No skin or bones for this size. If we catch smaller ones we just cut them up after cleaning and put them into the jars; skin, bones and all. There is no difference in flavor; I just like the clean look of the larger processed canned fish.

While it’s not the same as catching salmon n the saltwater, it is a lot of fun and you can’t beat the pureness of fish grown in a mountain lake. No worries about lead or other contaminants found in tuna. We need to figure out the crawdads next and who knows, maybe there is a freshwater clam or two around here.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and Off Grid Works.