*Meghan Barker works for Trout Unlimited Alaska in Anchorage on the Save Bristol Bay campaign. She is a guest contributor and visited Rapids Camp Lodge in early July.
I had the opportunity to make this recipe on a last-minute trip out to southwest Alaska in early July, and it was an absolute hit. Before you begin gathering your ingredients, you’ll need a healthy sense of adventure, a “just say yes” attitude, and someone to help you make sure you’ve got all the needed items- I recommend the Deneki Outdoors staff, specifically Bryan Burke and Dan Herrig.
- 1 Rapids Camp Lodge
- 4 rockstar guides
- 1 fully stocked bar
- 2 flyout trips to the Kvichak River
- 2 boat trips to Big Creek
- 1 fish box
1. Arrive at King Salmon airport and be greeted by Dan and camp dog Manny. They’ll drive you back to Rapids Camp Lodge, where you’ll get a warm welcome from the in-house crew, led by the one and only Amelia. You’ll talk with her and Debbie, Seth, Paula, and the rest of the crew for approximately five minutes, and you’ll immediately feel comfortable and excited for the rest of this recipe.
It’s okay if you get distracted by the mama brown bear and her two cubs walking just down the beach. You can observe them safely from the back porch of the lodge. This will only add some flavor to the recipe.
2. Add in the rockstar guides one at a time. Back from a day of fishing with clients, they will head straight to the fish processing building to make sure sockeye salmon are cleaned and vacuum-sealed so that you can take Bristol Bay “red gold” back home with you. Add in a dash of “just-say-yes attitude,” and you’ll get to help watch the magic happen. I got to meet Grace and Jeremy, two of the Save Bristol Bay Guide Ambassadors, as well as Pat and Kevin, who all helped offload bags of salmon and get them into the freezer.
You’ll want the really fishy guides- the ones that, after a delicious dinner, will take the rest of the staff (and yourself, if you just say yes) back out to the river to make sure everyone catches their five sockeye salmon limit per day.
3. Add in some drinks- which one depends on the night of the week at Rapids Camp- and let it rest overnight. In the morning, you’ll get a hearty breakfast before you hop on the floatplanes and head over to the mighty Kvichak River. You’ll know you’re at the right spot if you see braided streams, pristine blue water, wild iris, and sockeye salmon swimming upstream.
Stay here until you catch your 5 sockeye salmon. Add another dash of “just say yes attitude” and get a lesson on filleting your catch from the rockstar guides. While this dash enhances flavor, it’s not a necessity, and the guides will do it for you if you prefer.
4. Once you catch your limit, head back to Rapids Camp. If you’re early enough and you add a heaping spoonful of “just say yes attitude,” rockstar guides Pat and Jeremy will switch gears to the jet boats and take you to Big Creek. You’ll jet up to some of the sloughs, the motor will get turned off, and the oars will come out. You can stand up on the bow of the boat and immediately start seeing swamp monsters (otherwise known as pike) swimming in the murky waters. You’ll cast to them, and they will immediately chase your fly. If your heart is beating extra fast and you still have all your fingers, you’re doing it right. Motor back, pass the brown bear swimming near the bank of the river and head back to the lodge.
5. Repeat steps 3-4. During fishing on the Kvickak, you might see another floatplane coming down the way with a massive “No Pebble mine” sticker on its side. Use this opportunity to talk with the other anglers about why we are collectively opposed to Pebble mine. Ask your Guide Ambassadors what you can do to help get Bristol Bay permanent protections.
6. If you’re doing a quick trip to Bristol Bay, you’re almost done. Before you hop on the plane to come back home, you’ll need a fish box to take your sockeye salmon home. Don’t worry- Rapids Camp will supply it for you. You’ll get big hugs from the whole lodge crew that will make you feel like you’re hugging your mom, your best friend, or your dog. Those kinds of hugs that make you tear up a little and hang on longer to savor the last little bit of Bristol Bay.
You’ll know your recipe is done if you have a freezer full of fish, a phone full of photos to show all your friends and family, a fresh “No Pebble Mine” sticker, and memories that you know you’ll cherish forever.
And you will absolutely want to make this recipe again.
Chef’s note: A massive, massive thank you to the Rapids Camp Lodge crew and Deneki Outdoors team that made a few days in Bristol Bay some of my favorite days of summer 2021. Their commitment to conservation makes them friends of Trout Unlimited; their commitment to giving me a taste of Bristol Bay magic makes them family to me. Learn more about Trout Unlimited’s efforts to permanently protect Bristol Bay from hard rock mining at www.savebristolbay.org.