Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Alaska's Clam Gulch & the Kenai River Fishing Trip

Jason and Keyrock dig for clams during low tide at Alaska's clam gulch.
Headed up to AK for the Sockeye run this year. Jason, Eric(Keyrock) and I toured the Kenai river area in a 28 foot RV that included all the comforts of home in a 1980's style rolling base camp. We often fished 5 to 8 hours a day with processing (cleaning, vacuum packing and freezing) the days catch usually keeping us up till the wee hours of the morning.

Keyrock demonstrates using a clam gun to dig for clams.
This was my first experience clamming. It is a skill that requires a little practice and knowledge of the clam’s position in the sand.
Note: The dimple recognition step, the first step, was the key for me.

Here is how to dig up a clam.

1. Look for a small (about the size of a US nickel) dimple on the beach. This is the clam’s “show” and is the result of water moving vertically to the surface as the clam siphons sea water (at low tide) for substrates while feeding buried about 6 inches in the sand. If you pause the video at about :01 you can see the dimple of a Butter Clam.

2. We used a clam gun most of the time but shovels work well too, the second step is basically digging up the clam.

With a clam gun: Position the end of the tube centered over the dimple. Slowly press the tube into the sand until it reaches a hard layer. Making sure to avoid rocks and clams by rocking the gun back and forth and side to side in the mud. This was the tricky part. Many clams were crushed as the gun slid into the sand. Is that a rock or clam? Crack!
It takes a few times of slicing the clam in half to feel the clam with the gun and make sure to include it in the core. There is an air hole at the top of the gun that is plugged with your thumb making the tube air tight and able to pull a core of sand from the beach. Hopefully including the clam. Shuffle through the core of sand looking for the clam and/or finish digging up the clam by hand. Some of the clams were deeper than others.

With a shovel:
Dig a hole in the sand just above the clam starting from the dimple and working slightly diagonal toward the shore. This was about 5 to 6 inches usually. Go slow at the bottom as to not damage the clam. Reveal the neck and shell of the clam by digging with your hands back on the diagonal. If you dig directly down you can accidentally crack or crush the clam.

Note: Crushed clams are just as delicious, just more difficult to clean.

Hurry they can dig surprisingly fast to escape. Once you start digging it is a race, you vs. clam. Yes, they win sometimes.

A family digs for clams.

One of the things I had on my short list for this Alaska trip was to enjoy a home-made clam chowder after clamming all day at the gulch. A dream clam chowder that was like nothing I'd had before. A clam chowder that instead of being mostly void of clams, like we get here in Colorado,watery, mostly potatoes; is a chowder that is completely choked was clams, a ridiculous amount of fresh caught clams. Where every bite is a heaping pile of clams and buttery chowder drips from the spoon. You might ask, "did we forget the potatoes?" kind of clam chowder.

Well, we nailed it. A dream come true.

Here is the clam chowder recipe we enjoyed that night.

1.5 cups of clams per person (really)
4 slices bacon, diced
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups diced potatoes
1.5 cups clam broth/juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon minced rosemary, thyme, oregano (equal parts)

Dice and boil the potatoes for fifteen minutes, strain, set aside.
Cook bacon until crisp in a large, heavy sauce pan. Remove bacon to paper towels, dice.
Add onion to bacon drippings; sauté until softened, then add potatoes, and herbs and breifly saute. Add clam broth simmer for 10 mins. Next add the clams and the diced bacon simmer for 5 more mins. Whisk the flour into the milk and add it with the half and half simmer for another 10 mins or until the chowder thickens. Server with torn baguette bread.

Eat two bowls.

Hauling ass up river in the 1985 Class C Ford Suncrest Honey RV.

The halibut charters leaving for the morning tours. Seward, Alaska

Combat fishing at Bings Landing near Sterling, Alaska.
Fishing shoulder to shoulder was a new experience for me. If another angler got within a few feet of me on a river at home, in Colorado I'm sure I'd have some choice words for the guy and/or at least a stink eye. But here in Alaska during the salmon run anyway it is pretty much the norm and all popular fishing spots are usually teaming with fishermen...lucky for us they are also teaming with Salmon and everybody was light hearted and friendly.
You could see a steady stream of fish heading up river day and night. On July 18th of this year over 225K were counted by Didson sonar heading up river, this was more than 4 times the average for that day.

We got an AMAZING run this year!!

Bits!!! This what we called all the left overs from the filleting process.
Jason and I were new to filleting salmon. It takes some practice to get good at, I would say probably about 10-12 fish. Our first attempts had us cleaning up the bones getting every missed sliver of meat after the fact, very time consuming but worth it. We called these pieces "Bits". We would include them in the next mornings breakfast usually sautéd in bacon grease, peppered and served with scrambled eggs and toast.

A few clips of the fishing.

Keyrock hooks a sockeye a few feet from the waters edge at our backcountry spot.
This spot requires a short bushwack through the forest to get to, hints there is no people here. We carried a fire arm, bear pepper spray and made plenty of noise on our walks in. Bear tracks and scat were everywhere. Packing up the day's catch in our backpacks had us walking double time back to the RV. Keyrock threaten my life, if I give the exact location...sorry Blogosphere, my lips are sealed.

Up near the Russian River and Kenai River confluence.

This dog has it made floating down the Kenai.

A cleaning station with the morning's catch and beverage.
The sign reads "Help keep Anglers safe and Bears wild. Chop! into numerous pieces & Throw into fast current."

Our campsite pit smoker made with heavy aluminium foil, our grill, and the site's fire pit.
Another thing on the short list was to smoke a salmon that was just a few hours old with fresh cut green Alder from the river. We smoked a fillet for about 4 hours using only Alder in the fire.
The finished product lasted about four minutes.