Sitka anthropologist Richard Nelson called them the “The World’s Most Perfect Animal” and their homecoming every year to Alaska’s forest streams, mighty rivers, and quiet creeks as “one of the greatest events in the living world.”
Of course, he spoke of salmon, our miracles of nature.
Alaskan salmon season is officially upon us. In these next few months, you’ll receive your share of king, coho, sockeye, or keta salmon from our merry band of fishermen and a few of our most trusted partners across the state. These wild salmon are the best of what Alaska has to offer. They make us who we are here, reflecting our land and abundance in ways that are….well...miraculous.
— Nic Mink, Chief Fishmonger
Life on the F/V April L
Our Sitka fishermen all have interesting stories, and this is especially true for our fisher-couple Bridgette and Isaac Reynolds, soulmates, life partners, and owners of the Fishing Vessel (F/V) April L, a 32-foot Monterrey Clipper.
Isaac is a fourth-generation Alaskan. He was born in Valdez, where his parents were working in the canneries. But his roots actually date back much further, to the famous Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890s. It was then that his great grandfather moved from Seattle to Juneau to work as one of Alaska’s first dentists. Rumors still swirl that his great grandfather may have helped miners smuggle gold, tax-free, back to the contiguous United States by clandestinely filling their teeth with the precious metal.
Bridgette’s Alaskan story is much more contemporary. It began the first day of her sophomore year at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, where she was a double major in geology and biology. Her roommate had just returned from a summer deckhanding on a hook-and-line salmon boat in Sitka.
“My roommate turned her head and said ‘Bridgette, this is something that you HAVE to do. It’s so you!’ and so the next summer I did it,” she recalls. Bridgette returned to Alaska every summer for the next few years to deckhand, before moving to Sitka to take a permanent job as a math and science teacher at the middle school.
“I guess you can say it was the call of the wild,” Bridgette says. “You could say that,” Isaac chuckles.
Isaac and Bridgette met through mutual friends. Soon they were dating and when Isaac’s deckhand quit unexpectedly, Bridgette found herself gaffing salmon, icing holds, and baiting hooks on the April L. Like many fishermen in Alaska’s salmon fleet, it’s hard to make ends meet just fishing for salmon. Bridgette found her balance continuing to teach during the school year and deckhanding in the summer.
“I’m the first deckhand that ever lasted more than 6 weeks with Isaac. I think he liked me because I didn’t get seasick,” she laughs. “I also thought you were the best because you called me out when I was being an idiot. No one had ever done that before,” shrugs Isaac.
The Reynolds have now been married for five years and have two kids, Clayton (3) and Oscar (6 months). Currently, they’re looking for a bigger boat. “The April L is too small to bring the kiddos. We want to have a boat that can accommodate the whole family. We want our kids to grow up fishing for salmon and making memories together,” Bridgette says.
Isaac and Bridgette love different aspects of the salmon harvest. For Isaac, it’s about reeling in big fish, the pursuit of the next strike, and the thrill of landing the majestic ocean creatures. As Bridgette notes, it can be all-consuming. “Even when Isaac isn’t commercial fishing, he wants to fish for subsistence and recreation. When there’s a fish on the line, there’s not anything else in the world that is more important to him,” she smiles.
For Bridgette, the salmon harvest represents the opportunity to be out in the pristine Alaskan wild. “I love catching salmon because it lets me be on the water. It hits a certain time in the spring and I start smelling the ocean and I know that it’s time to go. It’s just something that’s magic to me,” she says.
Like all of you, Isaac and Bridgette love cooking and eating salmon. At home and on the boat, they eat it nearly every day. Their favorite way to prepare their salmon is as ceviche. “We eat the ceviche all the time,” Bridgette says. “We even had a five-gallon bucket of it at our wedding!” Isaac laughs.
When they aren’t eating ceviche, they love preparing the mustard-tarragon sauce that we’ve included as a recipe on our Sitka Salmonsharesians Facebook group. Bridgette notes that the sauce is great on king, sockeye, and keta, but that it might overwhelm the more delicate flavor of the coho.
Isaac and Bridgette harvest wild-caught salmon on the F/V April L for Sitka Salmon Shares. Take a look in your box this month (and coming months). Were you lucky enough to get their fish? If you were (and even if you got the harvest of one of our few dozen other boats), let’s raise a glass to toast their efforts at your next salmon meal!