Fall means a lot of things to mushers in Alaska, and one of them is FISH.
Trying to acquire a winters worth of fish for dogs requires a lot of effort, and leaves a wafting scent of fishyness that lasts until after the freeze up.
Fish are coming in and the freezer is filling up. Dog are also starting to eat more, and cook pot with fish and fat is a daily part of the diet now. Cooked fish and fresh fish have different but equally pungent smells. This is the time of year I pick a hoodie to be my ‘fish cover-up’ and wear it for all fish related chores. It lives outside as by day 2 it is sufficiently covered in slime as to be far to offensive to be hung inside. The dogs love it. I am amazingly popular when I wear my fish cover-up down to the dog yard to pass out a nice meal of cooked salmon and kibble. I don’t really mind the smell, it is a part of the cycle of seasons at the kennel, and it means well fed dogs this winter.
Fish, both cooked for meals and frozen cut in chunks for snacks, is a major part of a lot of mushers feeding program. And in Alaska we are fortunate to have access to some of the most amazing organic, free range, high quality protein, dog food in the form of fish. In other areas of the state different fish are caught and used, but in the Interior it is Salmon.
Called chums or dog fish, they can be purchased during commercial fisheries openings. But there is still some effort involved in securing a supply of fish for the winter. Connecting with folks doing the fishing and making arrangements must be done around the schedule of Alaska Fish and Game openings. Openings are the times when permitted people can run a fish wheel to harvest the salmon. Buyers meet fishers to purchase salmon eggs, which are in high demand. Mushers can purchase males and eggless females. There is never a guarantee with fishing, and we are always a little anxious until we have made arrangements for our winter fish supply.
The other consideration is timing. The fish will come when they come. And if you want to take advantage of this great resource then you need to be ready to handle large amounts of fish. The logistics of hauling, preserving, and then storing 1500-2000 fish can be very daunting. It is colder out now, which is nice. But no where near cold enough to freeze all the fish reliably and safely outside. We are fortunate to have a large walk in freezer that can hold a winters worth of fish and then some. But the fish come fresh, and can not just be throw in the freezer. The rock hard frozen mess of salmon would be a total pain in the tuckus all winter. Instead we hang fish in batches on racks to freeze, and then stacked like firewood. This allows the fish to freeze whole and straight, these fish make great frozen snacks as they are the right shape to run though the ban saw. And when we have a lot coming in we will also bag them in cook pot sized portions where one large bag of fish is one cook pot meal. (I wrote about the cook pot and feeding the team awhile back of people want to learn more or see what all the fish looks like cooked up and ready to feed)
Now I wish I could, but I can’t actually share the smell of fall fish with y’all. Best I can do is some photos that show ever so fun and stinky process of putting up a winters worth of fish for the Dew Claw Dogs. Yes friends it is as fun as it looks.