The Copper River is Alaska’s fifth-largest river and the tenth-largest in the United States – and it happens to be the home to the legendary Copper River red salmon. Learn all about these tasty fish before you land a gig with us at the Copper River Princess Lodge.
1. Red salmon share the river with their cousins.
The most commonly harvested species of Copper River Salmon is the Sockeye, known for its deep red color. But you’ll also find the famous Chinook, also known as the king salmon, and the Coho salmon, also known as the silver salmon. The Sockeye, or red salmon, typically weighing anywhere from four – 15 pounds, doesn’t compare in size with the king salmon, which weigh anywhere from 10 – 50 pounds.
2. Red salmon are a favorite of chefs.
Despite their comparatively dinky size, red Sockeye are a favorite because of their bright color, which they get because of the orange krill they feed upon. The meat remains bright orange even after cooked, and the Sockeye are a flavorful fish packed with high omega-3 oil content and Vitamin D. The fish is also popular for home cooking because it fries up quickly and offers an easy nutritional meal.
3. These fish are seasoned (and varied) mariners.
Sockeye salmon are spawned in freshwater lakes, streams and rivers like the Copper River, migrate to the Pacific Ocean and back to spawn when they mature. However, some Sockeye live their entire lifecycle within freshwater lakes. Some areas in Canada, particularly the Fraser River, see a phenomenon called cyclic dominance – meaning most Sockeye return to spawn when they’re four years old, making the catch particularly abundant during those years. Copper River Sockeye salmon migrate to the ocean and return, and the catch is growing – the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicted a 2016 run of 2.56 million sockeye in the river, similar to the recent 10-year average.
4. They’re kind of like chameleons.
The red salmon aren’t always red. The fish actually changes color, becoming turquoise or deep blue with a silvery belly in the ocean, which is why it’s sometimes called a “blueback.” The Sockeye turns bright red with a green head when it begins swimming in freshwater rivers.
5. They can be aggressive.
Male Sockeyes develop a hump on their backs that helps them fight other males for the right to mate with females. The ones with the biggest humps are often the alpha males, and like many other creatures in the animal kingdom, they can get aggressive about it.
6. They don’t have schools.
While a group of fish is usually called a “school,” Sockeye groups are called binds or runs. They can travel in binds of hundreds of fish, protecting them from predators – except fishermen, who really love it when they do that.
7. The name Sockeye doesn’t have anything to do with eyes.
The salmon’s name actually comes from the anglicized pronunciation of the indigenous Canadian word “suk-kegh,” which is translated to “red fish.”
Now you know some key facts you can share with the visitors at the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge when you spend your summer working here! And maybe you’ll try your hand at fly-fishing some Sockeye on your days off.