Grilled salmon, smoked salmon, baked salmon, fried… 

Originally published in The Daily World newspaper of Grays Harbor, Wash. on Sept.13, 2009

Before I visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time, I had never really eaten salmon.
Oh sure, I had ordered it from the menu at restaurants back in my native Midwest — things called salmon croquettes, or occasionally a salmon filet. It usually had a bland taste accompanied by a somewhat rubbery texture.

The thing about seafood is that it is best served in close proximity to the sea from whence it came — not vacuumed sealed, frozen and shipped 2,000 miles to be cooked by someone a lot more familiar with how to butcher a cow or pig than preparing what usually turns out to be an overpriced novelty.

Growing up as a red-blooded, red meat eating kid in America’s heartland, seafood was a rarity. For variety sake, mom would occasionally pull out a box of frozen “fish sticks” and throw these perfectly uniform squares of breaded mystery meat in the oven for 15 minutes until golden brown. These crispy pieces of curious fish flesh, once dunked and covered by a sufficient quantity of tartar sauce, went down easily enough. But then it was back to more common fare for another month or so.

The first time I dined on fresh, wild salmon here on the Washington coast, it was a revelation. “So this is what seafood is really supposed to taste like!” From that fateful moment a year ago, I knew I was hooked.

Since that time, many a kind coworker and neighbor have shared their homemade smoked salmon dip, fresh catches and recipes.

It all culminated a week or so ago, when I and my teenage son were invited to go out on a fishing charter from Westport.

We joined long-time Daily World employee Billy Bearden aboard the Westwind at 5:30 a.m. The 50-foot boat, skippered by Bearden’s brother Rob, crossed the bar just as the morning fog began to lift. My own personal Drammamine-induced fog would not lift until much later, however. But I digress…

Serving as a deckhand this day was another salty Bearden brother, Kelly, who told us he had being going out to sea since he was just a lad back in 1964. A fourth Bearden brother, Kenny, operates a drag boat out of Westport. At one time or another, all of the Bearden brothers have worked aboard fishing boats out of Westport or Alaska over the better part of the last five decades.

Their father, Fred, immigrated to Grays Harbor from a dry and far-away land called Oklahoma many years ago. (I knew there was something I liked about these guys). Fred and his wife Peggy operated Bearden’s Pancake Shop in Westport for many years. The Bearden boys were apparently given a choice by mom and dad: They could either wipe tables and wash dishes at the family business or go find gainful employment elsewhere. So it was out to sea for all of them.

We were joined by several other early-risers ready to catch their limit of two hatchery produced cohos each, or “silvers” in the local tongue. As is typical of this better-than-average season, the fishing was excellent and the boat landed its legal limit before noon. Along the way, we saw shark, humpback whale, and jellyfish — lots and lots of jellyfish. I briefly convulsed over the railing just once before regaining my composure and dignity. (Thank goodness I ate a light breakfast.)

I now have a freezer full of salmon and a refrigerator full of salmon leftovers. I’ve eaten salmon for dinner and salmon sandwiches for lunch. There can be too much of a good thing though, so I’m going to try and pace myself.

In the meantime, with apologies to my local grocer’s frozen food section, I believe the Rush family may have eaten its last “fish stick.”

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