Fish therapy

by Greg Lincoln

Each fall before the grip of winter takes hold of the Kuskokwim River and the waters are still ice free, you can find folks fishing for lush fish along the seawall in Bethel. You may even be one of them.

These fishers are hardcore, lured to braving the cold long nights as they jig, hoping to catch the elusive lush fish, which are also known as burbot. They are members of the Lush Fish Club who support each other – sharing their bait, sometimes loaning out their fishing sticks and hooks to those who need them, and keeping each other company and cheering when one catches. And if one gets some and the other doesn’t, the ones who have make sure to share their fish generously.

The flaky white meat, the skin (which actually has tiny microscopic scales), liver, stomach, and broth eaten with some seal oil rank right up there with salmon and halibut. It is also one of our most beloved native foods, we crave it and yearn for a taste of it each fall. It can be eaten boiled, baked, fried, dried, or frozen.

Fishing continues on after freeze up on the river through holes drilled through the ice. To some, ice fishing is a most therapeutic and restorative pastime. It is time well spent with your fishing partners, with nature, with God, and with yourself. It is like a meditative form of respite from life’s rough realities. Life can be a harsh taskmaster as we all must know, so it is not hard to enjoy the simple leisures of ice fishing.

According to ADFG, lush fish inhabit the Tanana, Yukon, Kuskokwim, Susitna, and Copper Rivers, among others. Here in our YK delta home, our local fishers know where the best spots are to fish – the traditional places that have their own names in Yugtun.

These lush fish belong to the Cod Family and live in freshwater. These fish live up to 20 years or more. When they are about five to seven years of age, they begin to reproduce. Cod family members spawn in winter, and so do the lush.

Like the catfish, they have an intriguing chin whisker, called a barbel. They almost look like an enlarged version of a blackfish with their unique dark mottled skin if you think about it.

Lush tend to feed at night. Some of our best catches are during the dark hours of the day. We have found pike, blackfish, whitefish, water beetles, and even a mouse in the stomachs of our bounty.

Thank you to our dear friends who shared some of their catch with us! Quyana to those who share, may you be richly blessed beyond measure.