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The Popsie Cucumber Fish Tradition

Mom and Daughter holding up rainbow smelt aka cucumber fish after fishing in Bristol Bay Alaska

As a small family owned business, we know a thing or two about tradition. We also know a thing or two about facing a challenge head on (or head off as you’ll learn in the case of cucumber fish!) So when we’re pulling through our gill net on a tough tide and get a strong whiff of cucumber – we relish the opportunity to take a few moments away from the salmon to initiate new crew and carry on a Popsie tradition.

Cucumber fish challenge in Bristol Bay AlaskaCucumber fish challenge in Bristol Bay Alaska

The Cucumber fish is actually a Rainbow smelt – a small fish no longer than six inches, and known for its distinctive cucumber scent. In fact, Rainbow smelts smell EXACTLY like cucumbers –you can smell them before you’ve even seen or picked them from your net. They travel with salmon, from salt water to fresh water to breed and make for a great source of food for salmon on their upriver journey.

It’s a tradition on our small beach to initiate new crew by insisting they bite the head off a Cucumber fish. No one really knows how or when this tradition started, but when we first set our nets in 1987, it was already a long standing expectation. It has since been passed down from Sarah, Jeff, and Siri to Jake, Erin, Gwen, and Owen and the numerous other crew members.

Of course, crew have all responded to this challenge differently over the years. Some crew put it off as long as possible – waiting until after we’ve finished fishing our tide, cleaned and maintained our equipment, and are changing into our normal “mill-around” camp clothes, when we’re able to document the initiation with our phones. We’ve also had crew who couldn’t wait and bit the head off while still fishing, swaying in the waves with salmon hitting our nets just a few feet away, forfeiting their right of any documentation or proof. We’ve had crew count down to three and bite the head off vigorously, only to spit it out just as quick, attempting to avoid the taste. We’ve had crew munch down on the heads as if it were a mid-tide snack. None-the-less, it’s a fun way to break up the monotony– adding an extra dose of excitement, rivalry and fun to our fish camp days.

 Cucumber fish challenge in Bristol Bay Alaska Cucumber fish challenge in Bristol Bay Alaska   

Written by: Erin Washer


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