The Year In Food » Fine Seasonal Eating

Masthead header

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

You can’t get to Cordova, Alaska, over land. You can’t go there on a whim, at the last minute, turning south onto the road that heads to town, because there is no road that will take you there. You choose to go there, by boat or by plane. And that one little hiccup in the ease of transportation eliminates the throngs of cruise tourists that seem to dominate so many of Alaska’s summer destinations. It changes the tone of the town completely. It makes it feel likes its own place, a living and breathing community built largely around the fishing industry, and especially around salmon fishing. For that sense of place that wasn’t built around tourism, and for the good luck of getting to know the town a little more intimately than the average tourist, Cordova won my heart.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Plenty of folks do make the effort to get to Cordova, most of them groups of men: fathers and sons and uncles and cousins and friends, heading in for a week or two on annual fishing trips. The intimacy and rhythm of this yearly ritual made for a warm, relaxed tone on the plane. Men boasting numbers around fish size, years there, locals known, but only the most good-natured of boasting. There were very few women on the plane.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Cordova is a place that’s defined by the presence of water in so many forms: the frequent strings of wet, drizzly days, the mountains and the valleys forged over millennia by glaciers and rivers, and the grand mud flats, braided rivers, and meandering tributaries of the Copper River Delta. Not to mention the sea.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

We spent an incredibly soggy first morning fishing along the Eyak river. No waterproof gear was immune to the insidious power of the rain. We waded into the water to our thighs; a few of us wrangled salmon. I wrangled something at the end of the line a number of times, but lacked the finesse to reel those wily biters in.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

In the afternoon we went foraging for mushrooms and berries. Alaska’s wild food abundance is ridiculous. And it’s because of all that rain. I have never witnessed more berries, or more varieties of berries, anywhere: blueberries, huckleberries, high bush cranberries, raspberries, crowberries, nagoonberries, and on! Cordova is at the edge of a temperate rainforest. It’s brilliantly green, damp, mossy, ferny, and ripe.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Langdon Cook discovered a rare black chanterelle.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Our group was composed of chef Stephen Beaumier, his partner Katy Oursler, who’s been deeply involved with Outstanding in the Field since its inception almost a decade ago, and author, educator, and forager extraordinaire Langdon Cook. I was really happy to be in such company; they all brought their own expertise and rich life experience to the week and it was totally inspiring to hang out with them.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

We toured the docks. A busy place of net-mending, gear-gathering, and general prep for the next opener – the next day that the US Fish and Game gave the go-ahead for a 12, 24, or 36 hour stretch of fishing for Cordova’s commercial fleet. We were there towards the end of the season, but at the season’s peak, the boats often stay out fishing for unbelievably long stretches of time. Fishing is regulated for sustainability, ensuring that the salmon aren’t overfished.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Happening alongside our Coho Tour was a weekend mushroom festival. Stephen and Katy were prepping the feast for the event, incorporating as many local and foraged foods as they could gather, including some of the yellow chanterelles pictured above, lots of berries, and of course, some unbelievably fresh Coho salmon.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Above, Stephen removes some steaming hot cedar planks with salmon from the grill, in a serious downpour.

The evening was amazing. It was a community coming together to socialize and celebrate around the things that they hold dear. It was also a fundraiser for the Copper River Watershed Project. And it was a tremendous feast, with a salad of nasturtium leaves and flowers, that amazing salmon, and a slew of delicious vegetables.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

The next morning we went in a small floatplane for an aerial tour of the delta. It was amazing. I love the topography of the delta, with its many serpentine waterways, diluvial mud flats, braided rivers, and, higher up, the glaciers that feed them. That amazing turquoise cast to the water is from glacial flour, fine sediment ground from glaciers and suspended in the water. It only sparkles that color on a sunny day.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

At the last minute, I decided to extend my trip by a couple days so that I could get on a commercial fishing boat – the openers aren’t determined ahead of time, so there was no way of predicting that over the course of our 5 days there, none would be able to go out. And I really wanted to get out on a boat. Ashton, above, was awesome enough to let me tag along for a 12 hour run. We left a little before 5, and he was in place and ready to cast his net by 6 AM, the official start time of the opener.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

It was a slow day. The end of the season was approaching quickly, and Coho don’t run in such impressive numbers as the sockeye that peak in the middle of summer.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

The sea is a place full of easy, rich mythology. I loved being out on the water all day; not a whiff of seasickness on the boat, just a serious case of sea legs on solid land when we returned in the evening.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

Michael and Austin prep some fillets for making into salmon jerky.

Cordova, Alaska + Copper River Salmon // the year in food

A huge thank you to the delightful Nelly Hand for inviting me out – it was a dream trip. And to Blair Hensen; the two of them worked their butts off to accommodate us and it was no small feat. Thanks to the Copper River Marketing Association for building such a tremendous trip into their budget; we are so lucky to be able to participate. And thanks to Ashton for taking me out on his boat, the fishing community for welcoming us, and to the great company of Langdon, Katy, and Stephen while there. Copper River Marketing covered the costs for the trip but the writing and photography are entirely my own.

  • April - Your photography is breathtaking, crisp and rich and balanced. Beautiful job on the writing and the photos!ReplyCancel

  • Erin @ - Holy moly, this is gorgeous. I would love to go to Alaska. I feel like my poor little “Get to Alaska” savings fund will take much longer than I would like! :)ReplyCancel

  • Donna - Amazing photos and a wonderful story! Thank you for an inspiring and visually stunning post.ReplyCancel

  • Stacy - What a stunning post – beautiful images and words! I’m so glad you were able to go on this amazing trip.ReplyCancel

  • Liz @ Floating Kitchen - What an amazing trip, Kimberley. Gorgeous photos! I would love to go there some day. It looks magical!ReplyCancel

  • Patti Panuccio - Thank you for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • sara forte - and magical place, indeed. I hope to make it back there. Nelly and Blair sure do make the whole experience quite spectacular. So glad you made it and enjoyed your time! Only wish we were on the same trip!ReplyCancel

  • alanna - HOLY STUNNING, KIMBERLY!!!ReplyCancel

  • Greg Buck - We love seeing the details of your life and the place you love .
    Beautiful work with the pictures and the text.ReplyCancel

  • French Toast Tasha - Holy smoke, those photos are beautiful! I love the last one especially. Maybe Alaska should be on my list too …ReplyCancel

  • Millie | Add A Little - I can’t get over the beauty of these photos! So gorgeous!ReplyCancel

  • todd wagner - UNREAL!!! These photos just made my day :)ReplyCancel

  • Sara from Sabzi - Holy moly, what beauty!ReplyCancel

  • Emily - This is one of my favorite projects you created! Eat Retreat Alaska?ReplyCancel

  • cheri - I just added Cordova to my traveling bucket list, love the pics. Also would like to find a black chanterelle.ReplyCancel

  • Christie - Beautiful-my home town-born & raised! Now in WA State & miss it terribly!!!!!! I am wondering if I could please get/purchase a copy of the first pic here. That Grebe boat in the pic is my dad’s former boat, and he also built one of the houses there, so it captures a an amazing view of my heritage I miss. Please, please, please let me know!!! :-).ReplyCancel

  • Marilyn - Love! Makes me very homesick. Beautiful photos. The first looks like a Nancy Stonington watercolor! Beautiful work.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - These pictures are gorgeous. I think I need to plan a trip to Alaska.ReplyCancel

  • Cindy - Gorgeous pictures! We’ve been to Alaska many times. Would love to plan a trip in your area. Could I get more information? We are planning a trip early 2015. Thanks!!!ReplyCancel

    • Kimberley - Hi Cindy,

      I don’t live there but was invited to visit as mentioned above, so I don’t have much travel advice to offer beyond what a guidebook or some internet research might reveal. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Sophie - What beautiful photos!! Makes me want to visit…ReplyCancel

  • Montse {Rhu & Sam} - what a beautiful land!!! the forest and fishermen’ images are astonishing, can’t imagine a more perfect place to be right now…ReplyCancel

  • Sher - wow – i love these photos! especially the aerial shots. so pretty


  • Emily - You create the most beautiful images! This sounds like an amazing trip.ReplyCancel

  • C Hand - You captured the beauty in your photos and you captured the unique spirit that is Cordova in your narrative. It is a place that draws you back.ReplyCancel

  • thefolia - Cheers to foraging in wide-open barely touched by human hands places!ReplyCancel

  • Joan Littlefield - The pictures are so very ” Amazing”, the descriptions and commentaries are extraordinary … Thank you so very much , I must come and visit Alaska. Joan LittlefieldReplyCancel

  • Jenn @ A Toast to the Good Life - Your photos are stunningly beautiful! The colors and peacefulness of them, I love. It’s so wonderful to see nature at it’s finest, as well as humbling to all of us who live such a fast paced life. Thank you for sharing! Perfect reminder on this hectic Thursday. :)ReplyCancel

  • julia | all the little things - if your shots are any indication of how beautiful this place is, then I need to go! every shot reflects such peace and wholesomeness. just gorgeous!ReplyCancel

  • Fran - Absolutely beautiful was one of my greatest pleasures getting to go there on two different occasions with my sonsReplyCancel

  • Lana - Absolutely gorgeous! I have wanted to visit Alaska for some time and these pictures are just something else. I envy your oppurtunity at such a wonderful experiance. Beautiful work!!ReplyCancel

  • Grace - Absolutely stunning! What a great trip this must have been. I think Alaska just climbed to the top of my list of next states to visit.ReplyCancel

  • Alicia saar - Cordova is a beautiful place to visit. I have many family members that live up there and fish. But I would never move back!! Great pictures awesome story!!ReplyCancel

  • bob hasselbrink - These have to be among the best – if not the best – photos I’ve seen on Kimberley’s or other blogs or sites!Kudos to you Ms. K!! Your writing adds so much to the sense and feel of what Cordova is all about!
    Bob HReplyCancel

  • kristie {birch and wild} - I had never thought about going to Cordova Alaska before, but now I want to. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful place. The landscape looks incredible.ReplyCancel

  • Kati B ~ FurnishMyWay - What a gorgeous place. I would love to travel to Alaska. Fishing looks like so much fun, but, unfortunately, I have only one experience with it… I was about eight, and all I remember is falling in the water. So that was pretty much it, haha. But I think I need to give it another go one of these days!ReplyCancel

  • Haley Musial - Beautiful photos. They tell a story in a magical way.ReplyCancel

  • Linda - Stunning! I’ve never been to Alaska, but now I want to go. Thanks so much for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • Laura - That is my boyfriend’s hometown and we are heading up this summer for a couple week. Your pictures made me so excited. Doesn’t get better than copper river red salmon.ReplyCancel

  • Faith - Cordova is my hometown, thank you for doing it justice!!!!ReplyCancel

  • Fae Bainter , Berreman - Beautifully done ! Made me so home sick as I spent 3 years and 16 summers in Cordova. It was the most exciting time of my 71 years on this planet. Cordova is breathtakingly Beautiful and un spoiled. Thank You for tour of present time.


  • miranda - If any of you ever go, you must stay at the Cordova Rose Lodge! It’s a cozy B&B right on the water made out of an old boat. I don’t know who the owners are now but it use to be ran by Gary & Gaye McDowell. That place will change your life, I know it changed mine!ReplyCancel

  • Glenda Kenmir - Cordova is a cool place, I have lots of family there. All fishermen! ! I lived there in 1970, grown alot since then. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jim Gordon - Not as much fun since the Clubb sisters moved away,ReplyCancel

  • Jared - I was raised in Cordova and used to seine and gillnet there. I miss that town, people and surrounding area tremendously. I tell people about Cordova often and tell them to go visit. It is such an amazing place and so worth a trip in. Thank you for the gorgeous photos and well written story. It was fun to read and look at and brought back many childhood memories.ReplyCancel

  • http://www./ - I love the comparison of our lives as cathedrals. Pretty challenging since I don’t think my spires have soared quite high enough the last few days. Thanks for all you’ve done for us this week with music from you and your friends.ReplyCancel

  • Rick Bray - Very nice story and photos of my Alaskan home. I started gillnetting there with my dad in 1968 and still fish there.

    Just wanted to correct a couple small mistakes. First it’s not the US Fish and Game that sets the openers and manages the fishery, it is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Secondly, the openers on the Flats always start at 7 AM unless it is a special opener of some kind. On the Sound, openers start at 8 AM.

    Glad you enjoyed yourself and hope you get to return!ReplyCancel

    • carol - Wonderful information Rick Thank youReplyCancel

  • Amber Eaton - Thank you for taking a trip to my beautiful town of Cordova. So glad you enjoyed yourself. The photographs are amazing but even better in real life. I speak of Cordova to friends and acquaintances all the time. They are missing out on a beautiful placeReplyCancel

  • Dephinah Sirako - those photos man, they are awesomeReplyCancel

  • Sachin Wapi - Really beautiful images and contentReplyCancel

  • Pawna - Very nice information, it’s really interesting to read your article. Thank you for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • Escape Way - Nice article.very good photos.thanks for sharingReplyCancel

  • Pawna lake camping - Such a nice article. Really helpful information for me. Thank you for sharing. Keep sharing.ReplyCancel

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *