Edible Yukon: Fishing for Moments

Aspiring fisherpersons soon learn that catching and eating are only two of many landmarks in the journey of fishing.

While I see fishing as a food gathering activity, I also appreciate the hours spent alone in beautiful wild places, ideal for contemplation. On one occasion, instead of a brace of grayling I came home with a memory of a cow moose stepping slowly out of the willows across the river, followed closely by her calf, her eye never quite leaving me as she browsed.

On another I shared a pool with a beaver swimming back and forth, gathering lumber, his wake mirroring that of my line. Often I’ve come home with the song of a rusty blackbird still echoing in my ears.

These were all successful trips.

For those intent on the catching part, there is no substitute for experience when learning. Watching fisherman of my father’s generation, I see patience and persistence that has developed over many years, along with a touch of superstition and much discretion.

I cherish interactions with other species, and strive to remain present during such interactions.

I begin by observing. Lying on my belly by an ice-fishing hole with a coat over my head has gotten me some odd looks, but the glimpse I’m granted of another world is worth it. When visual contact is not possible, my fingers become hypersensitive to the action of a lure, a nudge from a piscine nose, or a hit that prompts an adrenaline rush – then the dance that I hope will draw my partner from his realm into mine.

If I land a fish, I pause to give thanks before giving it the quickest dispatch I can. There is a precious moment when the world consists of only the beautiful animal and myself.

We are truly fortunate in the Yukon to have such abundant – and delicious – freshwater fish.

Fresh fish can be eaten raw in sushi, or given a light salt for a gravlax. There are innumerable ways to cook fish, but pan-frying small fish whole is hard to beat.

I prefer to keep the skin on for taste and health – except with pike, whose skin is more suited to making boots and belts.

Happy fishing, and enjoy all the moments.

Secret Lake Gravlax

This recipe works wonders with small trout and arctic char. I’ve even used it after freezing with good results. A more traditional version would include fresh dill, and I encourage you to experiment with plants that grow around you to give an element of terroir. For each pound of fresh fish filets (skin on) you will need:

2 teaspoons coarse salt ground with 8 juniper berries

¼ cup fir tips*

1 teaspoon birch syrup

Place filets skin side down, rub on salt and drizzle on the syrup. Lay over fir tips and any other herbs. I usually do two filets at once and place them salted-sides together in a Ziploc bag or airtight container. Refrigerate and let cure for at least three days, then slice thin to serve. Keeps for two weeks or longer if you can resist eating it all right away!

  • Harvest the tips of subalpine fir branches in the spring while still tender, and refrigerate or freeze them for later use.

Kim Melton is an enthusiastic forager and gardener, inspired by all things that make up good, local food.

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