Labor Day weekend in Michigan can be counted on for a few things. Hot, humid weather, families taking their last big camping trips of the summer, and early-run salmon moving up rivers to spawn. Higher-than- normal rainfall amounts seen around the state could be playing a role in large, early runs of salmonids on several west-side rivers this year. The Betsie and Little Manistee rivers, both known for the occasional spurt of early-run fish, have been seeing fishable numbers for the past three weeks. Now, reports of these silver marauders running the Platte are reaching ears here in Southeast Michigan.
Gear and flyfishers alike dream of hitting a fresh-run king or coho when it first enters the river, and the reason is simple: Pacific salmon stop feeding when they begin the spawning run. Find a pod of dark green or brown fish that have been in the river for weeks, and they are halfway to death's door. Fishing for them will probably be anexercise in futility. However, swing a streamer in front these same fish as mint-silver bullets just out of the lake and they'll likely attack your fly. Not for purposes of consumption, mind you - they are simply trying to destroy it, an aggressive response to a flashy stimulus. A fresh-run fish hooked in this fashion will pull out all the stops in a fight, and the odds of you being left with a broken line hanging limp in the current are good. Would you rather take a chance on one silver torpedo, or a dozen beat-up spawners? To quote Robert Traver, 'Don't answer too quickly...'
Another place where fresh salmon performs is on the table. Served raw, grilled to perfection, or smoked over wood, the high fat content and rich, wild flavors of salmon lend themselves to a myriad of recipes. Without an excess of complicated ingredients and preparations, salmon can be smoked or dehydrated into salmon jerky. Jerky, a long-treasured source of protein amongst campers, outdoorsmen, hunters and (especially) their friends, is made by marinating lean cuts of meat and then drying/smoking it until the strips break when bent. Many smoked salmon recipes can be used for salmon jerky - just remember to smoke/dry it longer.
Use your imagination and past experiences to add spice and flavor to this basic salmon jerky recipe. While you can make this jerky in a dehydrator (or even dry it in your oven on low heat), using a charcoal smoker adds a dimension of flavor that cannot be achieved with any other method. Plan ahead, as you should allow the meat to marinate for 24 hours (I sometimes let mine go 72 hours). In addition, the jerky may require 8 hours or more smoker time to achieve the desired doneness.
What you need:
Fresh salmon fillets - skinned
1 cup curing salt (not iodized)
2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 gallon cold water
Cayenne pepper or hot pepper sauce (I prefer Tabasco)
Please check the slides in the attached list for steps to make salmon jerky. Tight lines!