In southeast Alaska the first commercial fishermen to encounter salmon are members of the troll fleet. Trollers are small fishing vessels operated by one or two people who fish with a number of lines and hooks baited with herring or artificial lures. Of all the commercial salmon fishing methods, trolling may be the least efficient from the standpoint of intercepting fish. High seas trollers must search for fish in the open ocean; net fishermen, by contrast, wait in areas where salmon are known to school in the migratory route.
By way of compensation, trollers are allowed to fish beyond the inshore limits set for net fishermen, and generally have more days of fishing time. Modern fishery management tends to favor inshore methods and it is unlikely troll fishing will be significantly expanded.
Troll-caught fish are usually “ocean caught” or “brights”, that is, they are caught before maturity when they are moving inshore and feeding heavily. They are attractive fish, somewhat smaller, perhaps, than those caught by the net fisheries, but in full vigor of their ocean period. Only coho, king and pink salmon are taken in any number by the troll fleet and all three species, when delivered by a competent fisherman, command a premium price.
The volume of troll-caught fish is much smaller than that for net-caught fish. Troll-caught salmon generally make up less than 10 percent of the total Alaska catch of all species of salmon.
What they lack in quantity, troll-caught salmon make up in quality. No fish is treated with more care from the time it leaves the water until it is delivered to the retailer’s door. A sharp rap on the head quiets the fish before the hook is removed; a thrashing fish is apt to bruise himself or dislodge scales.
The fish is then gilled and gutted. Ice will be carefully packed in the body and head cavity and the fish will be laid on a layer of ice in such a way that the body cavities can drain freely. The surrounding ice will be arranged so that no fish comes in contact with another fish and so that all liquids drain away from the fish and into the vessel’s bilge where it is pumped overboard. If the vessel has freezing capability, the fish will be blast-frozen much the way it is ashore, dipped in fresh water to form an ice glaze and placed carefully in the hold.
Almost all troll-caught fish go into the fresh, frozen or smoked market. The small number of fish represented in the troll catch, combined with their uniform attractiveness, make them the most valuable, pound for pound, of the Alaska salmon.