Alaskans enjoy the journey of the first Copper River salmon of the year

 Copper River Salmon
Copper River Salmon (KTUU)
Published: May. 16, 2019 at 9:50 PM AKDT
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After a long, white winter, summer colors are starting to show. The air smells different. Alaskans are starting to stay up later, maybe a little too late on these final school nights. The sun and all of its promises are being revealed. And, the first taste of the season is finally here: Copper River salmon.

Thursday morning Skip Winfree from 10th & M Seafood climbed into an Alaska Central Express plane along with a Channel 2 crew to chase the salmon in Cordova.

Excitement filled the air.

After a 45 minute flight over snowcapped mountains the plane landed at one of the fishing capitols of Alaska.

How many salmon would be caught?

How big would the kings be this year?

Text messages starting rolling in from fishermen with 60 North Seafoods. It was good news.

“It’s the biggest day of the year for us,” Winfree said about the Copper River salmon opener.

Winfree has owned and operated 10th & M for years. He’s watched the excitement as chefs from Seattle wait with open arms as Alaska Airlines flies the famous fish into the big city thousands of miles south from where the fish were caught. Three years ago Winfree decided Alaskans needed the first taste of Alaskan salmon.

“The marketing side is one thing, to allow the people of Anchorage and Alaska to get to eat the first fish of the year, I think that’s an exciting experience for all of us,” Winfree said.

It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy the hoopla of one of the most famous exports from the state becoming national news, it’s just that he wants Alaska to also be part of the fun.

That’s why 10th & M, 60 North Seafoods and Alaska Central Express decided to team-up and join forces to ensure Alaska gets Alaskan fish first.

“We recognize that it’s kind of special,” Steve Deaton with Alaska Central Express said. “Alaska deserves the opportunity from this fishery and ACE is more than pleased to work with 10th & M to make this happen.”

Just before 3 o’clock a helicopter buzzed over the ACE plane. It carried a pallet of freshly caught fish plucked from the water just a few hours earlier. Quickly, the plane was loaded and headed back to Anchorage.

Winfree and Deaton both joked about enjoying a salmon dinner that evening.

Just before 5 o’clock the plane landed. Winfree held it over his head.

“First fish to Anchorage,” Winfree said, “Copper River 2019, we got it.”

An Alaska Central Express employee grabbed two fish and quickly drove to Suite 100.

Chef Kelly Nichols started to carve two fish, which he valued at about $800, for the dinner rush.

Just after 6 o’clock more than 6 orders had already come in.

“If it’s in, we’ll sell out of it,” a chef said about the catch.

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