Here at Alaska King Salmon Adventures on the Nushagak River in Alaska, people come from around the world to not only experience the thrills of king salmon fishing, but also to take home some of the best eating fish on the planet. Whether you’re fishing with us in Alaska, or anywhere else in the world, taking proper care of your fish once it’s caught is the key to optimizing its table quality.
Anadromous fish have delicate flesh, and taking every step to ensure a quality end product is important. The nervous system of anadromous fish isn’t like that of a warm water fish, so they should not be kept alive as the added stress will degrade the quality of meat.
As soon as one of these fish is caught, deliver a quick blow to the head to kill it. With a finger or knife, immediately brake a few of the gill rakes on one side. Instantly the fish will begin bleeding down the side, so be sure to hold it over the water if fishing from a boat.
Bleeding large fish like king salmon make take a few minutes, so you might want to tether them in the river so you don’t have to hold them. The current flow will also help clean them off. If in a boat with a fish box that lets in water, they can be bled there.
Once the fish is bled out, get it on ice. Avoid keeping the carcass in the water unless fishing in very cold rivers or lakes. Keeping fish in warm water will cause the meat to breakdown, making it soft and off-flavor. Be sure to have ice for a cooler or fish box, so the cooling process can immediately begin.
Another way to bleed an anadromous fish is by cutting all the way to the spine, right at the base of the tail, on the underside. This method is cleaner than popping gill rakes, but takes longer.
Eating a blood-free cut of salmon, or any fish for that matter, is delicious. Compare it with fish that haven’t been properly bled, and you’ll be sure to bleed your fish from that point on. Remember, no matter how good the cook may be, they can only create a dish that tastes as good as the meat they start with, and nothing is better than a cut that’s free of blood.
Here’s a little video shot near the Alaska King Salmon Adventures Camp, on the Nushagak River, that shows what we’re talking about: