Fairbanks Weather

Click for Fairbanks, Alaska Forecast

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Filleting Wild Alaskan Salmon

My husband came home today with 15 red salmon, added to the 4 we got earlier, we now have 19 salmon in the freezer.  Alaska residents are allowed to dipnet (basically what it sounds like, catch the salmon in a large net) a certain number of salmon every year.  

Photo Credit

There are several rivers where you can do this with different rules and limits.  We dipnet the Copper river at Chitna, a small dot on the map 6 hours south of here, and we are allowed 30 fish per family. 

It sounds easy, but believe me it is a LOT of hard work! It is somewhat dangerous, the Copper river is a very fast moving, glacier fed river, that rushes through a rocky canyon at Chitna.  The access is either by boat, charter, or on an old, unmaintained railroad access road that we used to be able to drive by car until, several years ago was washed out, and since then the only access is by 4 wheeler, bicycle or foot.  We usually go by 4 wheeler, on the rocky and sometimes scary road.  Once you get out there you have to climb down a steep rocky bank down to the river, then find somewhere safe enough to either wade out or perch on a rock to get your 18 foot pole with a big net on the end far enough out into the river to catch the salmon as they swim upstream.  

 As I mentioned it is very fast moving, and if you fall in without being tied off and wearing a life jacket, you are gone.  People do die dipnetting.  My husband and son went out there a week ago and only got 4. 

The second time my husband went alone and decided to do a charter this time.  A charter entails getting there very early and reserving your spot in line, for the limited “holes” along the river.  They take you out by boat and drop you off on a perch, not reachable any other way, to fish, they stop by every couple hours to check on you, or you could choose to spend overnight fishing, if you wish.  This time he got 15, giving us 19 for the season.  We won't have time or money to go back again this year.
My son's first salmon ever!

He cleaned them, packed them in coolers on ice, drove north a bit and spent the night somewhere quieter, and then came back this morning.  We spent the afternoon cutting and packing fish.  Most people filet their salmon, I see a ridiculous amount of waste watching some people filet their fish, so I was opposed to it. We usually cut ours into steaks, basically just cutting crossways through the bone, skin and meat, there is almost no waste this way, there are bones, but I they come out very easily after cooking.  I really want to smoke some this year, we don’t actually own a smoker, and I would like to build one, but for now they need to go in the freezer.   For smoking I thought filets would be best, so for the first time I gave it a try.  I was able to do a decent job without wasting too much.  I started out planning on filleting ½ and cutting the other half into steaks, but after doing about 6 fish, I realized I was getting 2-4 fewer servings per fish with the filets than the steaks, so we did filets with 6 fish and cut the other 9 into steaks. 

How to cut salmon filets:
Cut around head below the gills, and cut straight down to the spine, then turn the blade sideways and slice along the spine

Turn the fish over and do the same on the opposite side (in case you are wondering, the dishtowel kept the slipery fish in place, and I threw it away when I was done)
Remove the stomach bones by slicing just below them
We pack 2 pieces at a time in Food Saver bags
Here are packaged salmon steaks.
Mmmm grilled salmon for dinner tonight!

Here is a link to a video on salmon filleting that I felt was very helpful and more in depth than my descriptions.

This post also shared at:


  1. Another reason to move to Alaska! Those are some beautiful salmon. And grilled is the best!

    I'm commenting as anonymous because the comment box is not cooperating~Kim (Jabez Farm)

  2. We use our carcasses from fileting salmon several ways. The obvious thing is to cook them into broth and can it. But the carcasses are also really valuable as livestock feed. We take all the by-products (including heads), and boil them for a long time with a bunch of barley. Then freeze that in smaller containers. It smells bad but makes great feed for chickens and pigs. Bones and all. Its a really good source of protein and calcium. The laying hens love it, especially in the dark of winter.
    We also mix with wood shavings and compost it, but you need to have a bear and dog proof setup for this. The shavings keep it from smelling, though, although a bear would still be attracted. My husband always talks about trying to bring back barrels of other people's fish guts from Chitina for making compost but I'm glad that he hasn't gone that far! Yet.

  3. Trish, thanks for the great info! It was exactly the info I needed! We bagged up and froze the heads and other parts because I didn't want to waste it, but didn't quite know what to do with it. I knew I could compost it but attracting dogs and wildlife was a big concern, I don't know how to make my compost pile secure enough, and we've never had bears, I certainly don't want to attract them. Never thought of the chickens, I will give that a try. It doesn't make the eggs taste funny?

    Hi Kim :)

  4. Great post! It's nice to see another Alaskan blogger - come by and visit me at Home in Douglas!

  5. We always put a few filleted carcasses on the grill with some salt and pepper and call it an appetizer! Just dig in with fingers to pull meat off the bone. Anything left over goes for sandwiches. Otherwise, you're right about the waste. ~Chantel, Bellingham

  6. Chantel, super great idea! Never thought of it.