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Celebrating Fourth of July Alaskan style
The heads of salmon are boiled to cook the cheeks, a delicacy in some areas, the best part in others. - photo by Photo by JEFF LUND
Can you really blame me if my culinary choices for the Fourth of July weekend had a literal, Alaskan flavor?

I mean, I think I heard somewhere, “As American as King Salmon cheeks, pulled off a boiled fish head by a campfire” uttered by some authoritative source.

Well, maybe not, and to prevent you from thinking that my weekend Independence celebration was barbaric and primitive; at least my buddy Justin and I got the outdoor-and-fire part right.

The boiled fish head was simply the coup de grace Sunday night, tying up a great celebration of freedom.

Saturday started at 5 a.m., when I made my way downstairs to where the coffee lives. I made enough for a cup and my thermos while I put together enough clothing to ward off the early morning chill that lingers until that warm orange orb burns off the sea fog.

The days leading up to the Fourth had been beautiful to the point I started to debate whether or not last Monday’s 45 degrees and raining fiasco had actually occurred.

By 6 I was on the shore, and within five casts I clubbed my first salmon of the summer. It was a huge relief. Even though it was still the earliest salmon I had landed in the past couple years by a couple weeks, my inability to close the deal on previous hook-ups made me feel like I was going all Chuck Knoblauch and had completely lost my touch. I’ve hooked and landed so many over the years, but the start to the ’09 campaign was rough on my psyche. I went 2 for 3 on the day with salmon, drastically improving my average, and I reached the point where I no longer had to count how many Dolly Varden I caught.

I came home and showed the two fish to my mom like a 10-year old, before heading down the road to Jody’s Seafood Specialties. Jody was in my brothers graduating class, and used to drive her step-brother and me to and from school, so we didn’t have to walk up hill both ways and past all the Polar Bear dens.

She’s a good friend and happens to have the best method and recipes for smoking salmon I have encountered. I refuse to take my fish anywhere else to be smoked. There simply is no need, and plus, she will ship it for me, so it won’t slowly thaw as I drive back to Manteca through Canada.

Once back at home, mom and I watched the parade from across the bay, then walked to the school to check out the goings on.

It was a typical Fourth of July.

There were booths selling hamburgers, hot dogs, seafood and people milling about in red, blue and patriotic Randy Moss jerseys.

Parents cheered during the hula hoop contests and onlookers laughed as the community provided its version of a celebration in its unique rural-Alaska-native-town way.

That night it was difficult to decipher exactly when the professional fireworks began. The hour was supposed to be 11 (when it would finally be dark enough to see them), but from 9 p.m. to well after midnight, our house rang and shook with the fortissimo ballad of exploding powder, which kept my up way too late.

Hoping to duplicate the previous morning, I again awoke two hours after the sun, and headed east to the Thorne River for the cohos.  

Maybe I was sleep deprived, but I actually thought that I would hook one within the same time frame as I did the day before. Wrong, very wrong.

I was beginning to accept that I would simply have to wait until the fish were in thick to have daily good luck, and decided to abandon the spot where I had plucked the 10-pounder. After a half hour of nothing but Dolly Varden I started working my way back to my pool.

I saw that some dude had tainted my fishing hole with this lure. I grunted, puffed up and swiped at the ground before making a fake charge in his direction. He swayed side to side, then walked off. I let out a territorially dominant roar.

The very next cast, I had a fish.

I was pretty stoked to tell my buddy Justin how great a fisherman I was.

But Justin is a commercial fisherman, and his stories of danger and human-sized fish dwarf mine. He crewed the Seafarer last summer — the same Seafarer that sank in the spring.

Justin found a new boat and upstaged my stories of catching early silvers with a 44-pound story of his own. He told me he wanted to cook the head and eat the cheeks. I happily offered the fire pit in front of my house.

It was a nice flash back to the camp fires we had had since we became friends 23 years ago.

Back then we had traditional hot dogs. Sunday it was a boiled fish head.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail