by Peter Twitchell
When times are good and when times are hard, fish camp is a wonderful place to spend time with the family. When fish camping, everyone is working together for a common cause; kids are fishing off their boat when its parked in the slough with parents supervising.
The whitefish, Dolly Varden, Rainbows, are plentiful and can be eaten and enjoyed by the whole family (fish and chips). While celebrating your catch you also feel good about helping feed your Elders.
Mom and dad and the older kids are cutting fish, soaking it in brine and hanging it to dry. Then you take the dried fish and put it in the smokehouse to cure, usually with alder or cottonwood.
Some of the trees have aspirin-like quality in their sap and beneficial, I believe, in the smoked fish.
When I was a kid at fish camp I liked to help cut smoke wood, tend to the smokehouse, and make sure the smudge didn’t lose its spark.
The longer you smoked the fish during the day, the quicker you got done with it, and begin storing it for the winter. Mom and dad stored their dried fish in wooden barrels.
Most fish campers are tending to and watching their dried fish like hawks, to keep it away from those who would come in after you’ve gone back home to Bethel, then help themselves to it. In modern times, people don’t have the same respect people did two hundred years ago until the latter part of the 1950s. People really lived, breathed and practiced respect for their neighbors.
Meal times at fishcamp was a meal worth waiting for, usually consisting of the catch of the day with fresh vegetables, homemade bread with real butter and homemade preserves from the summer before.
Hot tea was good with a little candy made from rich brown sugar with some molasses cooked and hardened together.
One of the staples at fishcamp used to be fresh dried smoked salmon right out of the smokehouse. After a hot or not so hot steam it was time for bed. Off in the distance I could hear a boatload of fish campers returning home, and we’d wake up to the sound of birds chirping in the morning.
I relived these moments as I ate strips, with homemade bread with sweet butter and preserves made a few months earlier, and I’d top that off with sweet salmon-black berry akutaq sometimes with raisins. Then I’d wash all that down with hot tea. All of this was made possible by our family unit working together with no complaints.