Copper River Reds

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Chugach, Photos, Travel 15 Comments

Cordova Alaska Boat Harbor, Alaska

Cordova Boat Harbor, Alaska.

Unfortunately the service that handles our email subscriptions has been having trouble lately – hopefully this one will go out. 

Weather permitting, the commercial salmon season will open tomorrow (Thursday) at 7:00 am near the entrance to the Copper River.  When we were in Cordova, the harbor was bustling with activity as fishermen prepared their boats.  You see, not only is this the first fresh salmon to hit the market every year, it is also the best tasting due to its high oil content.

To help meet the huge demand for this salmon, Alaska Airlines is going to have a 737 jet standing by to haul about 10 tons of this fish to the lower 48 so that is can be in stores and restaurants by this weekend.  Some years, helicopters have meet the boats and picked up salmon right from the fishing grounds.  I remember while in college in Orange County hearing radio advertisements from finer restaurants announcing the arrival of this prized salmon. 

All the hub-bub around this fish always struck me as a bit odd, because I grew up near the Copper River and salmon from the river made up a large part of our diet.  I had know idea I was dinning on what today is such a highly valued, highly sought after food!  Despite having Copper River Red Salmon much of my life, I do still love the stuff!

Comments 15

  1. Hey Ron,

    Cool, nice post. A couple of questions:

    * Do these boats fish the river, or just the harbor at the entrance to the river?
    * Do you actually taste any difference between Copper River Reds and other Red Salmon?

    When I was in Atlanta, there was a highend restaurant right across the river from my place that had Copper River Reds every May – I’d go right by the place on my run, and see the sign the day they posted it, “Copper River Red Salmon Available NOW!” .. it always brought a smile to my face, as it reminded me of where I’d be a month from then. 🙂



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    Hi Carl,

    As I understand it, the bow-pickers like you see in the lower left, fish in the ocean at the mouth of the Copper River, in shallow, tricky waters full of hidden sand bars, unpredictable waves and currents. They are small boats, usually with only one person on board, and they are jet powered (no prop) so they are able to run in very little water.

    I believe I can taste the difference, but really any Red Salmon is good. I think a lot of times the difference in taste is how the salmon is cooked – most people tend to over cook it a bit. That Red Salmon is really good canned as well if you like fish.

    That is a cool story on the restaurant.

    Hi Richard – Yeah it seems like you can’t go too wrong with wild salmon!



  3. Hey Ron,

    Thanks – I’ll have to check it out closely and see if I can taste the difference – I do like some fresh salmon.

    Do the commercial fishing boats go up the river though, or just around the mouth? Is the only commercial fishing in the river the fish wheels?



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    Hi Carl,

    You know I don’t think they are allowed in the actual river, in fact I think I have heard guys talking about markers or buoys marking the fishing boundary. I do think they get as close to those as possible because the fish are more concentrated in those locations.

    I didn’t think commercial fishing is allowed with fish wheels either, in that I don’t believe you are able to actually sell the fish. Maybe that has changed. We used to have access to a fish wheel. Back then is just seemed like a lot of work, fishing was much funner. Now that I have to pay for food, I would love to have access to one!



  5. Hey Ron,

    Thanks for the info – so all the boats I see on the river are non-commercial fishing people. Cool, thanks.

    Yeah, you know, you’re right (of course) the fish-wheels are non-commercial. I used to eat at this place in Chitina (right beside the Copper River, for those reading this other than Ron), just a little home-style dinette thing .. and she couldn’t sell Copper River Red Salmon there, because it would require a commercial license, the same as these boat-folks who ship out literally tons and tons of fish, which was way more than she could afford – so if I wanted to buy Copper River Reds at an eatery on the Copper River, they had to have been caught by a commercial operator, shipped out, sold in the marketplace, shipped back to Chitina, where she could buy them and sell them – how crazy is that?

    The other weird thing is that the fish on the east coast, would be fresher than buying it in an Anchorage restaurant .. because they’re 4 hours ahead, on EST .. the fish get caught, sold and shipped, and are on the table on the east coast for dinner at 7pm .. which is 3pm here in AK .. so by the time someone in Anchorage sits down to eat their ‘fresh fish’ at 7pm Alaska-time, the folks in Atlanta have already finished and eating ice cream – so I’m told, anyway.

    Crazy ole world, eh?

    Sorry to kinda pillage your post like this Ron.



  6. Hi everybody! Shame on you Carl, for pillaging Rons’ post!! It was quite interesting, though. Sorry, Ron! However, you do get all the credit for the great photo & the interesting information that you shared with us. I bet growing up, you never realized how good you were eating!! Hope everyone is well & having a great time.

  7. The most coveted of all the fish, and the one’s they are going after first are the Copper River King Salmon. I love catching them and eating them. The Kings are certainly much better tasting than Reds in my humble opinion.


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    Hey Carl,

    You can pillage my post anytime!

    I had a buddy who also thought it was crazy and started selling salmon he caught – that is until he sold to an uncover officer.

    Thanks Poetryman!

    You are right Beth – I didn’t know how good I had it!

    Thanks Mom. I give the edge to Reds, but now we are splitting hairs. 🙂 Either one for me!


  9. They did change the rules on fishwheels a few years ago and people who live in the local area are allowed to sell some fish under a federal permit. Federal permits allow some wheels to start running on May 15 and we started ours at midnight last night. No fish yet but we are hoping for a heavy king run to show up before the reds.

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  11. I with you Mom, I love the flaky rich buttery taste of Kings more so than the reds, they seem to be a little too firm or grainy to me… sorry Ron 😉 But you’re right, it all sounds good right now, we’re just splinting hairs! Just for kicks, I did a test a couple years ago and cooked up a Copper River, Kenai, and Iliamna Red. I grilled them at the same time. I’m not even super taster but I could tell the Copper River Red had a better flavor and fat content than the rest. The Kenai red was kinda bland. Crazy isn’t it, I thought it was kinda bunk before I did this test!? Anyways, kudos to the fisherman, their lifestyle, and fresh fish.

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    Hi Kirk,

    After Carl asked if I could taste the difference, I started wondering if there really was a difference, or was it marketing hype. That is an interesting test, with interesting results. It is nice to hear you really found a difference. Thanks for sharing!


  13. My brother ships us reds every year from the Kenia River…..what a taste. I have tried Copper River salmon but have not tried a taste test side by side….is there really a noticable difference? I had someone swear to me that they knew Copper River’s were the best…..does this make sense? especially since commercial fishermen aren’t allowed in the river? Thanks, Tim

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