Sitka, Alaska

Sitka, Alaska

Back in September of 2012, I was invited by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) on a press tour to Sitka, Alaska where I spent 3 inspiring days learning about sustainability, wild Alaska fisheries, the local economy and the environment. I was thrilled to be a part of this group and to explore this corner of the world I have been eager to visit for many years.

I joined a group of food writers, bloggers and chefs on this adventure.

We fished, cooked, tasted and discovered.

One of the many varieties of rockfish we caught


Talon lodge

I knew a bit about Alaska already through my friend Jill who had spent three years living in Fairbanks. I remembered her photos and tales of the natural beauty, glaciers, and wildlife. I was intrigued by the rawness of it all.

I flew all the way from Florida to Sitka, via Atlanta and Seattle. I took that time to learn a little bit more about the state and I studied its map carefully. Did you know that the entire state of Alaska is as wide as the distance between Florida and California? Over 1.5 million square meters making it the largest state in the United States, but also the least densely populated. The Artic to the north, Canada to the southeast and Russia to the west.

Sitka is located on Baranof Island in the southern tip of the state and it can only be accessed by air or boat. It has an oceanic climate making it very rainy, foggy and mild for Alaskan standards.

I arrived on a rainy afternoon and met the rest of the group in town.

The enthusiasm and excitement were palpable amongst all of us. We knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime and we were ready to learn.

We walked into town to get our fishing licenses that same afternoon as there was lots of fishing to be done the following morning.

The Talon Lodge became our base camp. A beautiful fishing lodge on a small island off the Sitka shoreline that provided the boats, the gear, the guides, the food, the beds… all for a perfect and comforting experience. (I even had one of the best craneosacral massages I have ever had!)

We returned him back


I had to stop him on his tracks. That smile.

We were up bright and early on our first official day.

A hearty breakfast and a full day of fishing awaited us. We were ready with our fishing suits and wellies. I was a bit intimidated as I have never been fishing on a boat and because I am not the strongest person in the world, both physically and emotionally. I have fished before and every time, it has been difficult to watch the fish die. I must acknowledge that an animal must pass for us to eat it. Not easy to take some time, is it?

Rain and rough waters were forecasted. Very rough indeed.

This is when we learned about the different fisheries in Alaska and their seasons. Halibut season had just come to an end so we were focused on salmon, of course, rockfish and crabs.

We learned about the five different varieties of salmon and their different characteristics. The coveted King with its high oil content and delicate texture, Sockeye with deep red flesh and firm, Coho which are similar in taste to the King but firmer and red-orange flesh, Chum or Keta are desireable because they combine economy and great texture, and the abundant Pink which tends to be lower in price and is normally canned.

We were incredibly lucky to have two chefs amongst us, Dan and Patrick. With their guidance, we tasted all varieties of salmon that evening. Studied their flavor, texture and color and learned about different preparations from grilling, smoking, curing to sautéing.

We also ate lots of crab and shellfish and I can attest that king crab is still my favorite. So much of it.

It was a feast for the senses.


Talon lodge and spa

I was also very curious about sustainability and the economic impact on the community.

Alaska boasts having one of the world’s few governments that is truly dedicated to sustainability through responsible fisheries management and ensuring overfishing never occurs. Fishing is the livelihood of much of the state’s population and it was apparent how they are willing to protect their waters and environment. I sensed the independent spirit of the west for sure, which I always find very inspiring.

We toured inside a working boat with a crew of 4 to 5 men. Saw how they fish, work and live.

Salmon swimming up the river

One of the most fascinating moments from the entire trip was when we got to watch the salmon swim upstream – where they are born and where they go to die. Did you know that when salmon lay their eggs they begin to spawn and they completely change their appearance? I had never seen anything like it and there we had it – a stream full.

It was intense.

On our last day, we also took a hiking trip through many of the trails around Sitka with moss and mushrooms growing everywhere – a rainforest in Alaska.

We also visited a small farm where cubs and other animals are rescued. They had the most beautiful sheep and goats. Varieties I had never seen before.

Walk through the rain forest

So I left Alaska understanding a bit more about what it takes to manage a sustainable fishing industry, appreciating the different varieties of salmon and their subtleties, and most importantly, wanting to go back for more.

I must take my family back.

I know how much Jon and Miren would appreciate harvesting the food they love. Even be there for salmonberry season. Definitely for the natural beauty.

Thank you Larry and ASMI for hosting us and Bertram for all your knowledge and hospitality.

I shall return.


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104 Responses to “Sitka, Alaska”

  1. Isn’t Alaska just a wonderful and magical place? There are so many wonderful communities to visit and I have great memories from all of them! And the food is always fantastic – glad to see you had a wonderful first visit there!

    • Aran says:

      Yes! I’d love to venture north next time too and visit in the summer and forage and fish. That would be amazing. Thanks.

  2. Juliana says:

    Oh, Aran. This is truly a trip to be remembered. You captured a beautiful part of this world wonderfully.

  3. Megan says:

    Wow, Aran! These photos are so so beautiful, and truly make me feel as though I were there experiencing all of your adventures! Alaska is a place I hope to visit some day, thank you for making me feel one step closer.

  4. Absolutely stunning photography, Aran! I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska – even more so after looking at your photographs. The rich, saturated colors and interesting animals and plants are so beautiful.

  5. Hi Aran, What an amazing experience and a great way to learn new things! Plus fishing, and eating fresh salmon and crab and seeing all that nature. I love your photos.

  6. Elisa says:

    What a beautiful post! Now, even if usually I tend to dislike cold, I’m yearning to travel to Alaska! It seems so beautiful and rugged, in a good way. It both intimidates and set my mind at peace, thinking of such a life.
    I like what you said about the sustainable life lived in Alaska; it’s such an important matter that most of us tend to drop as ” another new age expedient “; if here in Italy we had had dedicated more of our time on this point, by now the mediterranean tuna would probably not be on the endangered species list… So sad, but very illuminating also.

    And, by the way, you are a great still-life photographer! You seem to have a talent in depicting fishes; it’s often quite tricky to photograph them without turning out with a cadaver photo… And I understand your hesitation about fishing too; I have always cooked fish and other meats with ease, but I can’t suffer seeing a living being die. Hypocrite maybe I am, but I can’t help it. I think they should all have a deign life.

    I love also the images of the forests; I’ve never seen before anything like that! Pure beauty.

  7. Iratxe says:

    Aran, ¡Alaska… qué viaje fantástico y qué bellas fotos, realmente maravilloso, extraordinario reportaje!. Me dejas emocionada… ¡HERMOSO!. Muxuak.

  8. I’ve read all of the wonderful posts on this trip and I’m filled with such envy. What a marvelous experience. That beautiful fresh fish… the scenery… just being out there in that boat. It’s all so stunning. And I just love that photo of Bea. She’s a sweetie.

  9. Lauren says:

    Ahhh…. Alaska. It always manages to steal my heart. I feel like it is a place I am meant to be. Alas, I live 12,500 kms away. Your photos are beautiful Aran, and make me feel closer to that amazing place than I could ever be in person. Thank you.

  10. Lorna says:

    Oh Aran, I can’t tell you how long I have had Alaska on my ‘destinations I have to visit’ list and this post only serves to make it all the more urgent! Really stunning shots as always… I’m in complete admiration.

    Best wishes, Lorna

    • Aran says:

      Hi Lorna, I would love to see Alaska through your lens and I hope you make it up there some time soon. So worth it. Thank you and hope you are well.

  11. Kimberley says:

    These photos are magic. Alaska has always been high on my list and yet I’ve never been. Perhaps this’ll be the summer. Thank you for the inspiration, Aran.

    • Aran says:

      Thanks Kimberley. You are not that far away if you think about it. At least on the same coast. So worth the trip. Summer must be beautiful! :)

  12. melinaphotos says:

    So soft and moody, those grey skies and bold shores and vistas. You have some wonderful images of fish and folks – I can only imagine how intense it must have been to see fish gasp their last breaths. I thought exactly the same thing in viewing your images – intense. But you give proper reverence, and that is soooo key.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely story and your experience within.

    • Aran says:

      Thank you Melina. I have some images of actually spawned fish dead on the shore that I thought were beautiful too. Just nature as is. Raw.

  13. jandi says:

    Magical- wish i could escape there with my family once in our lives at leats

  14. Nadia says:

    Aran, your photos are stunning and they SO make me want to visit Alaska! I have never thought much about visiting it, despite living down the coast (in Vancouver, BC), but it will definitely be on the list of places to see the next time I plan a trip. Thank you for sharing your experience :)

    • Aran says:

      BC is so close…. You should definitely visit. Only a shirt flight away. But your climate and coast are also so beautiful!

  15. Miriam says:

    Absolutely stunning images. You made me even more excited about going to Alaska next year! Thanks for sharing. Miriam x

  16. Claudia says:

    I have to tell you once again that your photos are amazing: I could almost hear the silence and feel the cold of those wonderful places!
    Congratulations :)

  17. Sandrine says:

    Amazing pictures! I started Food Photography recently.
    May I ask you which lenses did you use for those pictures?
    Merci…

  18. Absolutely magical and stunning photos! We went to Alaska for the first time in August for 10 tens and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. SO glad you had the same experience! I posted 4 posts on my blog about Alaska, but your photos are to die for! Two of the blogs I subscribe to just mentioned you within the past week and I’m so glad I’m subscribed now! Looking forward to all the photos and fun reading ahead!

  19. I’m from a tropical country (Brazil) but since I was a child one of my “dream wishes” is meeting Alaska. Reading your post and looking at the pictures was kind of being with you over there. The pictures are just beautiful and very artistic for it was possible to live the moments with you. Thank you for sharing this amazing trip with us, Paula

  20. Melanie says:

    Magnificent photos! I will definitely be adding Alaska to my destination wish list. It looks like you were traveling with Beatrice Peltre? What a fun trip!

  21. Absolutely stunning and magical photos! We went to Alaska for 10 tens in Alaska and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I’m SO glad you had a similar experience! I posted 4 Alaskan posts on my blog about our trip. Two of the blogs that I subscribe to mentioned you within the past week and I am so happy I subscribed to you! Looking forward to your beautiful photos and lots of fun reading ahead!

  22. Gracias Aran por este precioso reportaje fotográfico, y por el texto, ya que por unos momentos nos hemos evadido de la realidad, y nos hemos trasporatado a ese paraje tan bonito, a esos caminos y a poder pensar en degustar esos salmones y pescados.

    Besotes

    Ana y Víctor.

  23. Cynthia says:

    I thought of the movie “The Proposal” when I saw the title “Sitka, Alaska”! I love your pictures. I did not know Alaska could be this beautiful. Thanks to you, I just added Sitka to my “Must Go Places.” :-)

  24. Juana says:

    Cada vez que admiro tus fotos me siento transportada a esos bellos lugares que nos muestras!!
    Gracias por expresar tan bien la belleza de lo que te rodea :)
    Besitos!

  25. Juana says:

    Cada vez que admiro tus fotos me siento transportada a esos bellos lugares que nos muestras!!
    Gracias por expresar tan bien la belleza de lo que te rodea :)
    Besitos!

  26. Julianna says:

    your photos are so majestic!! I hope I can make it to Alaska soon!!

  27. susan says:

    You have such a beautiful eye, Aran. Your words and your photos tell a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing your adventures!

  28. Thank you for bringing back the memories of my trip to Alaska. I was there once in February for a wedding and it was magical. You really capture the moments with your photos. They are spectacular.
    On my blog, I wrote a post of the blogs I am going to follow in 2013 and Cannelle et vanille is one of the blogs I recommended. I am looking forward to your next post.

  29. Laura says:

    Thank you for such an amazing post. How lucky you were to enjoy that amazing trip. Your pictures were beautiful and really brought the experience home.

  30. Looking at these photos makes me long for a trip to Alaska, I have a friend who just returned and all the pictures I see of this magical place make it seem absolutely wonderful. Like a land untouched and untarnished by modernization. It must be a breath of fresh air to see so many wild things out in their natural habitat. And the seafood! My God, the seafood….all I can say is YUM.

    • Aran says:

      Eva, exactly! And they want to keep it that way. I would too. It’s breathtaking, serene, rugged, wild and independent. My kind :)

  31. Dena says:

    Thank you for these amazing photos. So fresh and alive.

  32. Aran says:

    Thank you Dena

  33. Alisonhouse says:

    ¡ Qué maravilla de fotos y de paisajes!!!!!!!!!! Gracias por mostrarnos todos esos espléndidos paisajes.
    Un saludo desde España

  34. [...] did see this delightful bumper sticker in Cannelle et Vanille’s post today about her recent trip to Sitka, Alaska… “Friends DONT let friends EAT FARMED FISH! [...]

  35. Dana says:

    Gorgeous post as always, Aran. But on a totally unrelated subject, I just read your interview on Parents Who Cook at C&Z and you mentioned that one of your kid friendly dinner staples is baked fish with buttermilk and breadcrumbs. My four year old has started being picky about fish and this seems like a great way to get him to eat some. Would you please share the recipe?

    Many thanks in advance,
    Dana

    • Aran says:

      Hi Dana,

      I don’t really follow a specific recipe. This is what I do. Preheat oven to 450F.

      Fresh halibut or grouper are great fish for this. I cut them into rectangles then season each piece with salt and pepper. I put them in a shallow bowl and I coat them with a bit of buttermilk and let them sit in it for 5 minutes. Then a roll them in panko-style gluten-free breadcrumbs. I drizzle the bottom of a sheet pan with a bit of olive oil and place the fish on top. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on top of each fish piece and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness. As simple as that!

  36. Миглена says:

    Благодаря за чудесната разходка !!!! Снимките са разкошни и впечатляващи, все едно бях там ;)
    Поздрави от България!

  37. Sanda says:

    Oh I missed your posts so much and then you come back with post like this!! Amazing!!
    Nature looks incredible, you were so lucky to see all of that.

  38. Judith Flynn says:

    Oh how I envy you this marvelous trip and experience. I have been to Alaska on a short trip and want to return to experience something like you have done. It is truly a majestic place. Thank you for sharing, your photos are breathtaking!

  39. Looks like an incredible trip! What an amazing spread! Thank you for sharing.

  40. Oh my goodness! Now I really want to travel to Alaska. Your photos are amazing.

  41. María says:

    Aran, viví 2 años y pico en Alaska y debo reconocer que tus fotos reflejan de maravilla lo que es y representa. Nosotros fuimos con los padres y fue una experiencia tremendamente enriquecedora. Te recomiendo que vuelvas con tu familia. Seguro que les encantará! Un abrazo

  42. Elly says:

    Thank you for that wonderful post. This looks like the holiday of my dreams. Can you tell me how you came about it? Did you plan it yourself?

    • Aran says:

      Elly, I was invited by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute as a press trip of the area and I just couldn’t say no. It was too good to pass! An amazing experience.

  43. VH says:

    What a beautiful story. Thank you for such lovely images – so clean and sharp. I’ve often seen sock-eye salmon in the supermarket and have wondered what it was. Thanks to you, I know!

  44. Gorgeous Alaska, thanks for posting and spreading the importance of fish sustainability. And the pictures, just wow.

    • Aran says:

      I grew up in the basque country where fishing has been the livelihood of so many families. Sustainability has always been an issue, especially recently with so much of the bonito and anchovy depletion. Thank you.

  45. Jessica says:

    Such gorgeous photos! I live in Alaska (close to Anchorage) and have never visited the Southeast. It’s been one of my goals for a long time and you are inspiring me to make it happen in 2013! Thank you.

    También voy este verano para empezar un programa de Másters en España. Espero visitar País Vasco durante el viaje, porque muchos me han dicho que es un lugar precioso.

  46. NoxCreare says:

    Beautiful pictures!!!!congratulations!! I invite you on my blog .. http://noxcreare.blogspot.it .. let me know what you think .. I’m a creative
    Noemi

  47. [...] food writer and blogger’s trip to Alaska.  Photography by Aran Goyoaga for Cannelle et [...]

  48. Wow. This is totally my dream project/trip. One day I hope to take such a trip and come back with a wonderful story for my blog! Your photos really captured what I imagine it would be like up there. Beautiful, colorful, vivid, unspoiled. Thank you so much for sharing so many wonderful photos and words from this adventure. I think its so important to bring sustainable fishing to light and hopefully it will become the norm instead of the exception to the rule that it is now.

  49. Vicki Archer says:

    These photos are beautiful, Alaska is somewhere I would really love to go…and what could be better than fresh alaskan salmon!?

  50. A cup of tea an another breath-taking trip via your camera lens…Thank You!

  51. [...] you like these shots, then do yourself a favour and have a peek at her stunning pictures of Alaska. She has managed to capture the crisp feel of the salty air, the wildness of the [...]

  52. [...] I get it from my father who secretly wishes he lived in a box-like cabin in the middle of a forest. A rainy, autumn-like forest, suits him best. And you know, it all stems from our upbringing. If you have ever been to the Basque Country you will know the moody and saturated colors due to rain. Xirimiri, we call it. The non-stop light drizzle of rain and fog days on end. I always loved it and I miss it now. It is very obvious how much I miss that xirimiri. I certainly found it here. [...]

  53. beñat says:

    zelako argazkiek, Aran!!!
    Hurrengoan Alaskara bidai bat ein beharko dogu!!!

  54. ayset says:

    This place make me think the novels of Gogol .Evening meetings in a farm near Dikanka. Gothique atmosphere….İf somebody decide to make a film on it ,he should take it here.

  55. folique says:

    Wow, I absolutley love the pictures – Alaska seems to be a beautiful place.

  56. Ava Miller says:

    Dumbfounded!! Photos that can surely tell a never ending story! Two thumbs up… Thanks for sharing! I can’t get enough of it keep em coming… XOXO:D

  57. Loving the photo of the different species of Rockfish , arranged as though they were swimming in a shoal .Would look awesome as a framed print.

  58. I love everything about your photography. I am excited to see you have moved to Seattle, it is such a great place.

  59. [...] another wonderful thing about being in Seattle? The abundance of wild Alaskan salmon. After my trip to Sitka last year, I will never buy any other salmon [...]

  60. JC says:

    The pictures were just stunning, but you were also able to capture the very essence of such a beautiful country side. It’s amazing how such beauty can be seen through a small lens. I loved all your subjects. I am so glad you had a wonderful trip, and very glad you shared them with us.

  61. Cathy says:

    I really enjoyed your photographs, having lived in Southeast Alaska for 10 years, I appreciate how difficult it is to capture the beauty in pictures alone. You’ve managed to do a fantastic job. One of the fishing boats you have pictured is my husbands boat, Agile. My husband has been a fisherman in Alaska for over 33 years, fishing for all varieties of Salmon and Halibut. I’m not sure the boat has ever been photographed so beautifully. Thank you and we are so glad you enjoyed Alaska.

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