The third largest river in Alaska, the Copper, is currently the most famous worldwide for its salmon. Bristol Bay, famous for the world’s largest run of Sockeye salmon, hosts salmon from several rivers, as they mill around, waiting for the right time to enter any of dozens of streams to their spawning grounds.
The Copper River Sockeye is the most highly sought fresh salmon in the United States. The Copper River King is said to rival that of the Yukon King in flavor. Less well-known than the Copper’s Reds, the Kings are noted for their extremely high oil content.
The Copper is fished all summer long, from mid-May into September. Many of its tributaries’ runs come in at different time, making the commercial fishery, at its delta in the north Gulf of Alaska, durable. Upstream, there are Native, subsistence, personal use and sports users. Princess Lines passengers can opt out for a King fishing trip on one of the Copper’s tributaries. Natives and subsistence users have fish wheels along the bank above the confluence of the Copper with the Chitina. Urban and rural subsistence and personal use fishers also dip nets into the waters, bringing out their annual harvest.
The Copper is under increasing pressure from every direction, but the number of fish caught annually there over the past 40 years has stayed remarkably close to the same from decade to decade. The first year I caught a salmon at the Copper River, was as a commercial gillnetter, in 1974. The most recent ones were on Thursday, as a personal use dipnetter.
I brought home my biggest King since the last century, 38 pounds. One of the fillets will be eaten at my mom’s 93rd birthday party later this summer.
The other one got subdivided for a few meals.