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This is Redfish Lake located at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho. I just spent several days there enjoying the slow pace of camp life. The days were long and the western, starlit nights, cool and crisp. I loved it, and having spent time there as a child, it was a nostalgic trip back.

This post won’t be recipe-oriented, although I’ll include one at the end. It will be more of a contemplative ramble on fish, nutrition and ecosystems. All have to do with health, both ours and that of the environment. We are inseparably linked.

When I camped at Redfish Lake as a little girl, there were “red fish” in the lake, lots of them. Idaho’s Stanley basin (and Redfish Lake) is the spawning destination of Snake River sockeye salmon. These wild salmon hatch from eggs and make the epic voyage from freshwater mountain lakes and streams to the distant reaches of the Pacific Rim. They do this in the spring as young fish, migrating downriver to the Pacific Ocean to spend 2 to 5 years in the ocean growing strong and large enough to endure the journey back home to the lake or river where their life began. The sockeye salmon from Redfish Lake must travel almost 1000 miles gaining over 6,000 feet in elevation to return to their spawning grounds where they provide life for the next generation and then die.

How amazing and beautiful is that? The power of nature. It brings tears to my eyes.

Okay, I don’t want to make this an environmental rant, but before the many dams were built in the Pacific northwest, millions of salmon returned each year to spawn. Redfish Lake was full of red fish, the brilliantly colored sockeye salmon. Now, how do they migrate past eight dams, reservoirs and industrial blockades? Most don’t, and it impacts so many different ecosystems that it’s impossible to measure the consequences.

Back when the salmon migration was uninterrupted by damming the rivers, millions of pounds of high-quality nutrients were “delivered” to the plants, animals and people of the Pacific Northwest. A recent study * documented 137 species that benefit from the ocean-origin nutrients these salmon provide to the environment. Eagles and other raptors, bears, wolves, coyotes, insects, aquatic species, and many plants all thrive on these nutrients. Minerals from the ocean have even been detected in the leaves at the tops of trees. For centuries, the indigenous people of the northwest were sustained by the salmon and their connection between land and sea. Rapid industrialization has changed all that.

Thankfully there are people working to restore the rivers and the wild salmon. Snake River salmon were listed as an endangered species in 1991 and although recovery efforts are underway, it’s been a slow process.

Below is a photo I took of a print by Douglas S. Young and Richard D. Alsager. It tells the story of the sockeye salmon and Redfish Lake. I bought the print for my fly-fishing-guide son who studied fish biology and river restoration at the University of Montana. He and his fiancée will be married next summer on the shores of Redfish Lake.

In 1991, four sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake in the Stanley Basin, their ancestral spawning grounds. This journey of over 900 miles is the longest anadromous fish run in the lower 48 states. Over the past few decades Idaho has seen sockeye numbers plummet from tens of thousands to just the three males and one female sockeye in 1991. These four fish were trapped and utilized as important genetic contributors for future sockeye to be spawned and released in Idaho. The four fish that returned in 1991 exemplify the power, strength, and resolve that is so prevalent and unique to Idaho’s anadromous fish.

This limited edition print was produced in order for Idaho’s sockeye to come to life artistically. The original piece of work was done by actually painting the fish and pressing them on paper. The areas vacant of paint were then filled in with various colored pencils and pens. We felt that if this fish was to leave this earth forever, that at least an artistic record of the actual fish would be left behind as a reminder to you of how beautiful they were.

— Artwork and narration by Douglas S. Young and Richard D. Alsager

I believe that a deeper understanding and appreciation of where our food comes from brings with it greater health, both physically and spiritually. You won’t be eating any Snake River sockeye salmon, but if you enjoy the rich nourishment and delicate taste of wild Alaskan salmon, express some gratitude for the fish and admiration for its strength before taking your first bite.

If you choose to eat fish, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon is a sustainable choice. Check here for a detailed guide to fish conservation and the best seafood choices.

* The above study information came directly from the Save Our Wild Salmon website (almost word for word).

how to roast wild Alaskan sockeye salmon
(full of nourishing fats and healthy protein)

what you do
I see no reason to mess with this, just cook it as it is and enjoy the rich, deep flavor of the fish.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place tin foil on a cookie sheet and lightly grease with olive oil. Carefully rinse and pat dry the salmon filet (any size). Pour a little olive oil in your hands and rub it on the entire fish. Place fish skin side down on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in oven and cook for 10 to 20 minutes depending on thickness. Remove when fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve with lemon slices. Keep it simple. Appreciate the fish and enjoy!

My guy Fairbanks (Alaskan Malamute), doing some fishing at Redfish Lake. No luck.

Peace, love and river conservation.
P.S. After writing this post, I ran across this wonderful blog (Idaho River Reflections), with an eloquent story (and gorgeous photographs) about the plight of the salmon. Please check it out.

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23 Responses to “wild sockeye salmon”

  1. Lexie says:

    Melissa! Woohoo! See you at IFBC in a few weeks. So glad to see you on the list : ) Are you in touch with Diane Eblin of The Whole Gang? She has a spreadsheet going for all the gluten-freers. And special meals are being prepared for the gluten-free attendees 🙂

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ted Crookston, Gluten Free Emily. Gluten Free Emily said: Gluten Free For Good wild sockeye salmon: This is Redfish Lake located at the base of the Sawtooth Mou… #GlutenFree […]

  3. Cid says:


    Excellent post. Photographs first class as usual…. love the one with Fairbanks gazing into the lake thinking of what might have been!

    Must be an amazing place to visit and we all look forward to the wedding shots.


  4. What a beautiful post Melissa, and what a story about the 4 fish! I do partake of wild Alaskan salmon, and agree that the simplest preparations are best.
    I will make sure to say a quiet thank you to them prior to my next meal.

  5. Alta says:

    Great post. I love sockeye – and agree with your way to prepare it. Simple is best because the flavor is so wonderful.

  6. lo says:

    Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Gorgeous. And thanks for sharing. Seeking out sustainable seafood has been one of our big goals over the past few years. Living in a place where seafood is shipped to us makes things even more complex, since we’re also worrying about transport costs, etc. I still maintain that the best fish ever is that caught and eaten close to its source.

    I lift my glass to the redfish. May they prosper!

  7. Such a wonderful story and a beautiful post, Melissa! We love Wild Alaskan Salmon in our house-In fact, my five year old told my Mother-In-Law once: “Nana, my favorite fish to eat in the whole world is Wild Alaskan Salmon, not any of that Pacific Farmed stuff.” My MIL laughed so hard thinking back to what she fed her own children when they were young. it was definitely NOT Wild Salmon (more like Spaghettios from a can! lol

  8. ¡Estupendo post! Muchas gracias por compartir con todos tus recetas y experiencias.


    Ana y Víctor.

  9. Miles says:

    A wonderful post, really is. Thanks for sharing it.


  10. Sharon says:

    Love your site. Is it still possible to buy the Sockeye Salmon print?

  11. Oh, the poor fish … we make it so hard for them. On a smaller scale, we have shad and bass that couldn’t migrate upriver because of a dam that was no longer being used. Six years ago, our local dam was destroyed and recent tests indicate that they are Shad has been found 28 miles upstream! 🙂


  12. Melissa says:

    Lexie — yes, see you soon! Looking forward to it. xo

  13. Melissa says:


    Thanks for the kind comments. Fairbanks loved camping and the lake was delightful, but he wouldn’t go in past his upper legs. It was like one giant fish-flavored watering dish to him. I’ll keep you posted on the wedding plans.

  14. Melissa says:


    Thanks and I love your comment about quietly thanking the source. Right on!

  15. Melissa says:


    You’re so right, simple is best, especially when you start with top-notch ingredients!

  16. Melissa says:


    I’m lifting my glass with you! And being in land-locked Colorado, I can relate to the additional concern about shipping. Good point!

  17. Melissa says:


    Great story about your five-year old. Smart little character, that one! Bet your MIL did get a kick out of it. Just imagine the difference in the nutritional value of canned spaghettios compared to wild-caught salmon. Wow! Good comparison. Thanks for that!

  18. Melissa says:

    Ana y Victor,

    Gracias por sus comentarios buenos. Los aprecio!


  19. Melissa says:


    Thank you, I appreciate the comment. Being the wildlife lover that you are, I thought you might like this one.


  20. Melissa says:


    Check the link below and call the Redfish Lake Lodge and ask them about the prints. I bought these directly from the lodge. Maybe they will mail it to you or give you a number for the artists. I actually bought 3 different prints. They are amazingly beautiful. Hope this helps!

  21. Melissa says:


    Thanks for the link. Very interesting! It’s amazing how resilient these fish are and how they innately feel the pull to go back to their spawning grounds no matter what is in the way. Go, fish, go!


  22. Diana Keough says:

    These pictures are so pretty – and what a gorgeous dog! I also love your blog. The recipes are good, and I love to read about your gluten free journey. I have a website,, and would love to hear from you! ShareWIK (share What I Know) is a website devoted to bringing together women from all different situations and backgrounds (as well as a few men!) to talk about their experiences and learn from each other. We are taking about Celiac Disease this week on ShareWIK, and I would love your intake. Just sign up to get started. Hope to hear from you!
    – Diana Keough
    P.S. And keep up the great work!

  23. Rick Alsager says:

    1-208-880-7980 If you are interested in more fish prints I have all 6 that were done by Four Sockeye, including the print you saw in the article, “Redfish Return”

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