Here at Rainbow Bend Lodges, we’re a do-it-yourself fishing operation situated in the heart of some of Alaska’s best salmon fishing. Because so many anglers who stay with us, cook fresh salmon for lunch and dinner, they are always looking delicious, failsafe recipes.
Since the majority of anglers in our camp enjoy grilling salmon on the comfort of their own deck, outside their cabin, we thought you might enjoy some tips when it comes to grilling salmon.
When it comes to cooking fresh salmon, grilling is the ultimate. Combine the joy of outside grilling with fresh produce mixed into a zippy salsa and you’re ready for a party, even in Alaska! Because you do your own cooking at our camp, simply prepare these salsas before leaving home, and bring them with you in a cooler. If you don’t feel like bringing these items with you, then mark these tips and recipes, as you’ll want to try them as soon as you get home. If looking to clean out the freezer, these recipes are perfect!
Prepared fish topped with dazzling, flavor-filled salsa adds a new dimension while still allowing you to appreciate great fish flavors.
Salmon Grilling Tips
•Do not over marinate: Depending on thickness of fish, 30 minutes to 2 hours. If marinating longer than 20 minutes, keep refrigerated. Add any additional salt right before grilling.
•Keep grill well lubricated: Use tongs to grab an oil-soaked paper towel to brush over grates.
•Start with fish skin-side up to sear in grill mark, 1-3 minutes. Turn and finish cooking, skin-side down.
•Apply basting liquids or sauces containing sugar, toward the end of cooking to prevent charring.
•Do not overcook: Fish continues cooking even after it is off the grill, so as soon as it begins to flake in large chunks, remove it. Use a meat thermometer and cook fish to 135º-145º.
Skinless Grill with Salsa
This method works great for a large fillet. Be sure to have an extra-wide spatula on hand.
1 large fillet of salmon (4-6 servings)
1/2 cup butter, melted
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
1/2 tablespoon grill seasoning of choice
In a small bowl, mix butter, lemon juice, zest and seasoning salt. Baste meat-side of fish. Place fish, skin-side down, on a well greased hot grill. Grill 5 minutes or until grill marks are seared into skin. Using an extra wide spatula, roll fillet over onto meat side. (Skin should peel away as you turn the fish over.) Generously baste fish again, grilling 3-4 minutes. Carefully flip back on the original side, basting again and cooking an additional 3-6 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes in large chunks or has an internal temperature of 135º-145º. Serve with strawberry citrus salsa or mango salsa.
Strawberry Citrus Salsa
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1 orange, peeled and chopped
1-2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 green onion, thinly sliced
Juice and zest of 1/2 lime or lemon
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and pepper taste
In a medium, bowl mix lemon or lime juice with honey. Add all other ingredients, gently toss until combined.
2 cups mango, cubed
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce, optional
2-3 teaspoons hot sauce or chili sauce
In a medium bowl, gently toss all ingredients until combined. Let sit, refrigerated, at least 30 minutes before serving.
At Rainbow Bend Lodges, we’re fortunate to have all five salmon species make their way up the Naknek River. On even numbered years, pink salmon enter the river; all other species make their way into the system every summer.
Statewide, the silver salmon attracts more anglers to Alaska than any other. Their hard-fighting action, aggressive nature, fine table fare and abundance, make them a premier game fish. Silver salmon occupy numerous coastal rivers throughout Alaska, from Point Hope to the Panhandle, and August is prime-time.
From August into September, pursuing silver salmon in the many small streams near Rainbow Bend Lodges is a favorite way experience world-class action. Be it on a remote fly-out, or traveling into tributaries of the Naknek by boat, there’s no shortage of options and opportunity.
Small streams are so shallow in nature they can often be waded in most places, thus they have different holding zones than larger rivers. There may be no big holes to offer migrating fish relief, and deep slots in cut-banks can be few and far between, so fish seek refuge in other places.
In small streams, search for silver salmon congregating behind boulders, stumps, sweepers and elevated gravel bars. Anything that breaks the water flow is capable of holding silver salmon. The outside edges of bends in a stream are also good coho holding zones. Additionally, holes only two-feet deep can keg with silvers, especially in tidally-influenced systems. It doesn’t take much water to hold a pod of silver salmon.
For fly anglers, it’s hard to beat small stream coho action. Silvers will attack a multitude of bright, flashy flies, with size 2 or 4 Egg Sucking Leeches, Flash Flies and Deer Hair Pollywogs being among the most common. Dark colored Woolly Buggers also perform well, as do pink colored patterns.
Running jigs beneath a float is also highly effective. Here, the jig may be less than a foot beneath the surface, so a low-profile approach is important. Downsizing to a 1/16-ounce jig and float to match, can make a big difference. Work the presentation well downstream of your position, so as not to spook fish. This is where a floating mainline comes in handy, as it reduces mending which can spook the salmon in low, clear water.
Drifted bait such as cured eggs, where legal, can be tough to fish in small streams simply because there may not be enough current or depth to move the terminal gear downstream. This is where fishing bait beneath a float can payoff, and it’s a great way to cover water in search of fish. Suspend a closet of cured eggs beneath an 1/8-ounce float, and you’re set. Make sure you know the regulations on fishing bait in every stream you intend to fish; some streams in our area allow bait, others do not.
If tossing spinners it may be necessary to downsize the offering to prevent hangups and achieve a realistic drift. You’ll want to stay with a strong mainline–15- to 17-lb. test–to decrease lost gear and be able to control the fight. Be sure to have a stout rod and a reel with a good drag system, for when these fish are hooked in shallow water, they run like crazy!.
Slack bodies of water like sloughs, back-eddies, even ponds, can
be prime habitats for silver salmon to move through and hold in during early fall. Many coho salmon congregate near shorelines and can be reached on foot. The most challenging part of catching coho in these shallow, slack settings, is presenting an offering without spooking them. Avoid alerting fish with your line, and restrict body movement and making noise.
Casting lures is one of the most effective ways to target silvers holding in shallow, slack water. It’s ideal if you can see where the fish are, then decide where casts should be made. Look to see which way the fish are facing, then cast well ahead of and beyond them. The purpose is to not alert salmon to the lure hitting the water, rather to get them to hammer it as is wiggles past on your retrieve. If the salmon do not react to the lure fluttering by, then make the next cast so it travels closer to the school when retrieved. Lures with pink and chartreuse colors, rubber skirts, sounds and scent chambers, all work well in estuaries.
If looking to fish for silver salmon in Alaska, evaluate the small-stream settings you’ll be fishing. Read the water, then figure out which presentation will work best based on your position. Once you’re familiar with the multiple ways silver salmon can be caught, you’ll understand why these fish attract anglers from around the globe, and why we love pursuing them so much.
We get a lot of anglers from around the world taking home some of the best eating salmon on the planet. Be it sockeye salmon, silvers, king salmon or any other wonderful tasting fish from Alaska, we’re often asked about our favorite recipes. Here’s one that’s easy, versatile and tasty every time.
Whether on the grill in the backyard, in a fire pit or on a bed of hot coals, the beauty of this recipe is the ease with which it can be prepared and the many simple places it can be cooked.
All you need for cooking the fish is some aluminum foil and wood smoke chips. Any fish with the skin on can be used as well as any seasonings, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try new flavors of wood chips. The important part is making sure the skin of the fish is on the wood chips to serve as a barrier between the chips and the meat of the fish. Add an additional layer of sliced lemon, lime or orange between the chips and the fish if you have a skinless fillet or if you want to add another layer of flavory.
1/2 pound salmon fillet, skin-on
2 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 white pepper
Lemon, lime or orange slices if desired
In a small bowl, mix sour cream or Greek yogurt, dill, zest, sugar, onion, salt and pepper until thoroughly combined. On a large double layer of foil, place about 2 cups smoker chips/chunks. With a knife, poke a half-dozen holes under the chips or small wood chunks. Place salmon, skin side down, on chips/chunks. Spread creamy mixture on salmon and top with citrus slices. Close foil around fish or leave open and place in a hot grill or on a rack over an open fire. Cook fish 10-15 minutes or until fish is no longer opaque and reaches an internal temperature of at least 135º.
In August, 2017, we had a full camp. In one cabin, a young man and his grandparents joined us. The boy’s name was Oliver, and soon he became the most popular person in camp. His smile was contagious; his ability to communicate with adults, beyond his years; his appreciation for the camp, eagerness to catch fish, see bears and experience Alaska, truly conveyed what everyone in camp felt.
Outdoor writer, Scott Haugen, arrived in camp a few days after Oliver. Take a look at this article in the June 2017 issue of Salmon, Trout, Steelheader magazine and you’ll see the impression Oliver had on everyone. This is what fishing is all about.
If you live out of state and are looking to travel to Alaska, there are several reasons why you should go. From a fishing perspective, the fact that Alaska offers what many consider to be the best fishing on the planet, is all the reason you really need.
When planning your trip to Alaska, the key is figuring out what kind of fish you want to catch. If you’re a longtime veteran of fishing in the Last Frontier, then you likely know what you’re looking for. If you’ve never been fishing in Alaska, then there’s a bit of homework to be done.
Checking species run-timings in the area you wish to visit is the first step, as it’s hard to catch your target species if they’re not around. From there it’s just a matter of making travel arrangements, gathering the proper gear or booking with a guide, then preparing to head north.
Alaska is the perfect training ground for anglers. There’s nowhere else in the United States that even comes close to offering anglers what Alaska has. From multiple fish species to a variety of habitats in which to fish them, Alaska has something for everyone.
If you want to try new techniques and new gear, Alaska is the place to do it for the simple reason there are so many fish. Take sockeye salmon and coho salmon for instance, two of the salmonids we specialize in catching here at Rainbow Bend Lodges on the Naknek River and surrounding waters. It’s not uncommon for anglers to fish for these species and catch more salmon in a day than they will catch in an entire season, back home.
Some of the top spinner makers and egg fishermen in the world of salmon fishing spend a lot of time in Alaska. Why? Because salmon abound here in high numbers, whereby allowing much needed testing to be efficiently carried out.
When looking to master a new fishing technique, what better learning ground than in rivers where fish will be caught? If wanting to learn the art of float fishing with jigs for steelhead, head to Alaska. If looking to learn how to drift, chug, strip and swing poppers for salmon, head to Alaska. If wanting to catch rainbow trout measure in pounds, not ounce, on a fly rod, head to Alaska.
There’s no substitute for actually catching fish when trying to learn something new, and one of these rewards comes in the form of reading water. In Alaska, often times anglers find themselves in small, shallow streams with good clarity. What better place to actually see the fish? When you are able to observe these fish, either individually or in schools, note where they’re laying, and why. Study the surface flow of the river to see what’s happening on top, and what the fish seem to be doing below. Look at what the bottom structure is like both above and below where the fish are holding, then determine what’s causing the fish to hold where they are.
As you find salmon, trout or steelhead in silted or tannic rivers, evaluate why they are holding there. There are specific conditions that attracted fish to an area, and what appealed to them in Alaskan waters will also appeal to them in the rivers you fish back home.
If looking to test terminal gear, be it new, different color combinations or styles totally off the wall, then Alaska is the place. Want to put a new line to the test, or work with different hook combinations? Head to Alaska. Testing gear in Alaska can save you weeks, maybe months of fruitless effort on your home waters where fish numbers are much lower.
Once you go to Alaska and discover for yourself what a great learning ground it truly is–not to mention how easy it is to get there–you’ll be planning a return trip. The biggest complaint we here from people who’ve fished with us over the years at Rainbow Bend Lodges is they wish they’d have started coming to Alaska sooner in life. What you’ll discover is it’s really not that hard to get to Alaska, making it much more feasible than a once-in-a-lifetime experience many people believe it to be.
When it comes to fishing in Alaska, there are many options, and not all of them are expensive. We are located near the town of King Salmon, where you fly into on commercial airlines. There are no pricey bush plane flights to reach us, as we pick you up at the King Salmon, Alaska airport and drive you to our lodges on the banks of the beautiful Naknek River. From there, fishing for multiple species is only minutes away!
When it comes to fishing Alaska, perhaps the most famous scene is the shoulder-to-shoulder angling experience where the Russian River joins the Kenai River. Here, local, nonresident and alien anglers alike gather by the hundreds to test their luck on Alaska’s sockeye, or red salmon.
The sockeye salmon is one of Alaska’s most important game fish. They range throughout rivers on the Kenai Peninsula, with the Kenai and Kasilof rivers being the most popular. Several rivers in the Bristol Bay region also yield astounding numbers of sockeyes, as does the outlet of Lake Iliamna, the Kvichak River, which likely hosts the largest run of reds in the world. Some of the states biggest sockeyes are found in the Naknek River.
From a sport fishing perspective, the beauty of sockeye salmon fishing is their abundance and accessibility. The annual runs of these fish are measured in the millions, which is one reason anglers from around the world target these hard-fighting, great eating fish.
Upon entering rivers in early July, sockeye salmon are as bright silver in color as could be, with deep-blue backs, thus the local name “blueback” salmon. Oddly, red salmon feed on plankton, will routinely nip at fly patterns presented to them.
Because sockeye salmon don’t actively feed like other salmonids, many people believe the fly pattern you use makes little difference. After many years of fishing sockeyes here at Rainbow Bend Lodges, we firmly believe these salmon will bite, and that fly patterns do make a difference. The key is getting your fly down quickly, to where these salmon hug the bottom while traveling, and properly presenting it.
Sockeyes travel in large schools very close to shore and average from four to eight pounds, though 10 and 12 pound fish are taken each summer. The state record of 16 pounds was taken on the Kenai in 1974 and will be a tough record to break. We get a lot of clients who’ve fished red salmon throughout Alaska, reporting that the largest size average they’ve seen is on the Naknek. We’ve caught several in the 10-12 pound class over the years, even some bigger than that, so who knows, maybe the Naknek will kick out the next world record.
After hatching in rivers, juvenile sockeye salmon spend up to four years in the ocean before returning to their natal streams. By the time sockeyes have returned to their spawning grounds, they have covered thousands of miles from ocean feeding areas to the rivers. Like all Pacific salmon, they use their olfactory senses to guide them to their parent streams.
Spawning normally takes place in rivers, streams and places of upwelling near lake shores. The hen, or female, selects an ideal site and digs a nest with her tail. As she deposits her eggs, one or more males, called bucks, simultaneously fertilize the eggs as they drop into the nest. This process will be repeated up to five times, with between 2,000 and 4,500 eggs deposited. The hen covers the nest with gravel and remains in the area until death.
Like all salmon, sockeyes perish after spawning. If you find yourself in Alaska during mid-August, locating a small stream and observing the courtship and spawning rituals of the now crimson colored fish is a scene to behold. As the sockeyes reach spawning time, the once silvery colored fish undergo a transformation unlike any other salmon, turning brilliant red, with deep green heads. Observing sockeye salmon in their final stages of life is one of fishing’s most enthralling experiences.
The eggs of sockeyes hatch during the winter, where the alevins, or sac-fry, remain in the gravel, living off nutrients stored in their yolk sacs until early spring. Juveniles will emerge and seek protective rearing areas, where they will remain for one to three years before heading to sea in the spring, as smolts. In systems without lakes, however, many fry move to the sea soon after emerging from the gravel.
In some areas, sockeye salmon are landlocked, or in lakes their entire lives. This captive form of sockeye is called a kokanee, and though it rarely exceeds 15 inches in total length, is a popular fish in many lakes outside Alaska.
Due to their rich, reddish-orange colored meat, sockeye are ideal for canning, and many folks claim them to be the most tasty of the five salmon species. Not only are sockeye salmon extremely good eating, pound for pound, they could be the world’s hardest fighting salmon.