Know Your Fisherman

Know Your Fisherman

Alaska’s Copper River region is home to generations of fishing families who will tell you that the local harvest is not just a source of income.  It’s a way of life.


Local harvesters are the first link in Copper River salmon’s journey from ocean to plate. The Copper River fleet consists of 540 drift net and 29 set net fishermen, each of whom is an independent small business owner committed to the long term sustainability of the fishery.


Each captain holds a permit issued by the State of Alaska that allows them to fish in the Copper River District and in Prince William Sound. Working on small family fishing boats, one to two people crews tend their nets and each salmon brought on board is individually handled, bled and chilled. This skillful artisan approach is indeed time consuming but it ensures an intimate understanding of the Copper River fishery and a consistently high-quality product for consumers. 


If you’d like to meet a few of the fishermen of the Copper River, check out these profiles below. You’ll discover tidbits such as how and why these fishermen decided to commit for the long haul, what inspired them to do so, what their favorite species is and how they like to prepare and serve their treasured catch of the day!


Meet a few fishermen of the Copper River. These small business owners represent our small fleet of 540 drift net and 29 set net fisherman. Each holds a permit issued by the State of Alaska that allows them to fish in the Copper River District and in Prince William Sound.


Michael Bowen

HOMETOWN: Anchorage, AK
STARTING YOUNG: I started fishing the Copper River with my Dad as a kid and it is what love to do.
I LOVE SOCKEYE: There are many things that set Copper River Salmon apart - the most unique one for me is the diversity of sockeye salmon stocks that return to the watershed. This allows for a 3 month long sockeye fishery.
FAVORITE WAY TO PREPARE: Spicy/sweet dry rub with barbeque.

Thea Thomas

COMMERCIAL FISHING: It is the best possible job. It is challenging, fun, and we work in one the most beautiful places on earth, harvesting one of the world's very best foods.
WHY COPPER RIVER: It's that long cold river, and the high oil content necessary for them to fight their way home, giving them all that wonderful rich flavor.
FAVORITE WAY TO PREPARE: Marinated in my own lime juice, soy sauce, olive oil marinade and then grilled.
BEST MEMORIES: Every year is different, for 2011, it was the sheer abundance of Copper River Sockeye

Kory Blake

I’ve been fishing the Copper River for nearly 40 years and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I am a Copper River Fisherman! Come May, I’m ready......I’m ready to harvest the best salmon in all of the world! I take pride in what I do, I provide you with the same delicious salmon I put on my own table. The health benefits of eating wild Alaskan salmon are outstanding and the taste...well, it just doesn’t get any better than grilling a fresh Copper River King or Copper River Red.
Every time I cast my net I feel the same excitement I experienced that first time nearly 40 years ago. There aren’t many who can say that about their job! I am a Copper River Fisherman let me provide you with Wild Harvest.
Kory Blake, Direct Market Fisherman - Wild Harvest
Boat Name - Faraway. Named after Carol King's song, "Faraway" and the old memories of my wife trying to contact me on a CB radio only to hear, "He can't pick you up, he's too faraway!"

John Bocci

WHY COMMERCIAL FISHING: It's an extraordinary, challenging and richly rewarding way to make a living. It's awesome to be able to be a primary producer of food, the better the product the better I feel about it.
WHY COPPER RIVER: It's the water mon, not to mention the oil content in the flesh and those omega 3's.
COOKIN' IT RIGHT: We like to keep it simple, if its fresh then just a dash of salt and pepper. If its been frozen then I like it blackened, quickly with a good "cajun" rub.
FAVORITE MEMORIES: Fishing early morning "low water" sets in the fall, hopefully watching the stars and northern lights fade into the sunrise. If you've been truly blessed then there's a flock of cranes in the picture somewhere.

Torie Baker

HOMETOWN: Cordova, Alaska
WHY COPPER RIVER: The high oil content to fuel the long trip up river, and the awesome folks who catch them!Ours is the earliest and the longest sockeye season in the state.
SUSTAINABILITY: Alaska’s constitution requires that fisheries be managed sustainably. This includes limiting the number of vessels allowed in each district; which makes commercial fishing viable for the resource as well as my pocketbook.
WHY ALASKA? Customers should ask for Alaska wild salmon, anytime, anywhere. If it’s Copper River, you’re in for a real treat.

Brian Rutzer

COMMERCIAL FISHING: It's the place to be for great fishing, great community and wild nature.
WHY COPPER RIVER: The long season, high oil content and quality minded fishermen of the Copper River and Prince William Sound set this salmon apart.
FAVORITE MEMORIES: Early morning on the Copper River Delta all alone & catching!

Mike Poole

SPECIES: Salmon, Halibut
HOMETOWN: Homer, Alaska
SEASON: May - September
A FAMILIY AFFAIR: I got started fishing with my wife, Michelle and our young son. The riches didn’t always materialize but the life we lived was rich. I now count myself among the luckiest to be fishing alongside my two sons, to wake up in the harbor with their boats on either side of mine.
THE FLEET: It is a privilege to fish alongside this community of progressive, hard working and committed commercial fishermen.
FAVORITE WAY TO PREPARE: Grilled Copper River sockeye on the dock with family after a fishing opener.

Mike Webber

HOMETOWN: Cordova, Alaska
FISHING TRADITION: I was born and raised in Cordova; both sides of my family fished. I was lucky enough to follow and all four of my children have fished with me.
GOOD FATS: Copper River salmon have extra stores of oil to survive the long trip back to their spawning beds. The fat content also makes the salmon a higher quality fish when they hit the fresh seafood markets.
A WAY OF LIFE: I am Alaskan Native, of both Tlingit and Alutiiq descent. We bring king salmon back for traditional processing, a community potlatch, and distribution to our Elders and tribal members.
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Kelsey Opstad

F/V Chinacat
Kelsey started fishing in 2009, at the age of 19. Her passion for the Alaskan lifestyle is rooted in her Alaskan upbringing. She started as many of the members of the fleet began, as a deckhand. Three seasons later it was time to buy into a passion and a lifestyle that she loves. “I love the freedom to see where my work goes. This business is risky, you never know what the market is going to do, or the nature of the resource, but you can’t back down from things because you are afraid.“ Kelsey’s fortitude and motivation inspire as one of the youngest female captains in the fleet. “Keep it simple,” she says when asked about how she cooks her salmon, and that seems to be the best way to sum up Kelsey’s outlook, keep it fresh, simple, and stay in it!