Alaska Dispatches: First Salmon Of The Season | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media
A salmon dinner prepared by Nancy Pfieffer and Fredrik Norrsell during a kayaking subsistence trip in Southeast Alaska Photo: Fredrik Norrsell

Adventurers Fredrik Norrsell and Nancy Pfieffer recount the excitement of the first salmon catch on their subsistence kayaking trip in Southeast Alaska

Just inside Point Adolphus, I hit an all trip low. Subsisting off of what we could find while paddling around in Southeast Alaska wasn't proving to be easy. It seemed every waking moment, and many I wish had been spent sleeping, were spent just getting enough to eat and moving on.

The Tlingit, who thrived on this coastline for generations, had created culture, art and music in their spare time. We didn't seem to have time to read, write or take a walk. Without a whole society to back us up and teach us what we needed to know, the only thing we could do was travel less and fish more. But fishing didn't help. Catching was what we needed to do.

The next morning, as we ate breakfast on the beach, a salmon jumped just outside the kelp line. An eagle swooped down, talons extended, and flew off with a big, silvery, salmon. It was time to go fishing. Casting rods and a landing net on our deck we shoved off. Two or three casts later, bam, I have a fish on. It fights like a salmon. I get a glimpse of a streamlined silver shape

"It's a salmon," I holler to Fredrik.

READ MORE: Nancy Pfieffer and Fredrik Norrsell explain why subsistence kayaking is special 

With a passion that surprises even me, I want this fish. With a conviction equal to, or greater than my own, this fish does not want to be caught.

Keep the tip up. Don't let the line go slack. Keep him in the water, if you can, I remind myself. As opposed to my husband, who grew up in a small fishing village in Sweden, I started fishing only a few years ago. Fishing from a kayak adds a whole new level of excitement. My reel makes a crazy whirring sound for what seems like minutes, as my fish runs off with a large part of my line. He is not my fish yet. He leaps out of the water tossing his head. This is a big fish. It circles my kayak. Somehow I manage to keep the line out of the rudder. By the time Fredrik arrives with the net, he is doing shorter, slightly less energetic loops around my bow. Fredrik makes two or three false lunges with the net. Finally, he is in the net. He is dinner and breakfast and lunch and maybe dinner again. He is beautiful.

There were two more salmon for me that day, each bigger than the last. I am thankful for each one of them at the moment they are caught. Later, I am beaming as I have my picture taken with my beautiful fish. When I clean them, when I filet them, when I eat them, at every step of the process, I am grateful. These three fish will give us the ability to read, to write, to take a hike and explore this coastline.

The salmon have arrived, and all of Alaska is rejoicing in the summer sun. I can't imagine this place without the fish that sustains us. Surely, no art and no music would be created without them. Salmon feeds the bears, the eagles and even the soil that produces the prolific plant life that feeds the deer, the squirrel and us.

Welcome back. 


Nancy Pfieffer holds her salmon catch during a summer kayaking and subsistence trip in Southeast Alaska

Nancy Pfieffer with her catch. Photo: Fredrik Norrsell 

Dinner is pan fried silver salmon, with Fredrik's Swedish salmon topping, served with beach asparagus and fresh salmon berries.

Fredrik's Swedish Salmon Sauce

Sauté onions in olive oil, add thyme and lemon juice

Beach Asparagus

Sauté beach asparagus with garlic and olive oil

Feeling inspired to go on your own adventure? Explore our Paddling Trip Guide. 

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