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Igiugig family builds new smokehouse from local materials

One family in Igiugig built a new smokehouse this spring to get ready for salmon season.

Igiugig -

Renae Zackar and her family live in Igiugig, overlooking the Kvichak River.

Zackar expected sockeye salmon to start swimming upstream along the bank across from her house by June 5 or 6. Her net was all ready to catch them, and this spring, she and her husband built a new smokehouse out of wood they found nearby.

“It came from up the beach a little ways where the spruce trees grow well,” Zackar said.

The new smokehouse replaces an old tin one that is no longer ideal for smoking fish.

“It’s probably been here for about 50 years,” Zackar said, standing inside the old structure. “A bear went back here and tried to pull the back of the smokehouse off, tried to pull a sheet of the tin roofing off to get in here. All those holes, dripped when it rained, so it ruined a good portion of my fish.”

It wasn’t just rain and bears that made it difficult to use. Last year when Zackar was smoking her fish, it got too hot inside, and some of the fish burnt up.

So the Zackars decided to build a new wooden one. The whole family helped design it, providing input on what would make it easy to use.

They put in enough ventilation to get good smoke, and hauled gravel for the floor to keep it clean. Renae’s husband Greg milled the wood behind their house using a portable sawmill, she explained.

“We put the logs on top of that, and, used the guide to make it a certain thickness, and then this thing is a portable sawmill. It’s big, but it’s portable,” Zackar said. “We just level off the first cut and then keep on pushing it along to get the next boards out of it.”

Once the family catches some fish, Zackar will put some birch into a metal container for smoke and pack the smokehouse full of salmon.

“We have about, maybe 50 poles, or more probably,” Zackar said. “We’ll fit them in here as packed as they can get. Usually I like to keep them on the lower levels and then put them up as they dry, when they’re not so heavy for me to lift.”

Zackar said she hopes to put up about 700 salmon this year.

“I do can it and jar it after two days of smoke, before it’s all the way dry, but the really dry ones I put in the freezer, or else just leave hanging out here, and we just eat it like that,” she said.

By the fourth of July, she hopes to be done. And as long as the fish turns out well, she’ll share it with family and friends.

“Once I get the fish in here I’ll see how it works,” she said standing inside the new smokehouse. “I think it’ll be a good smokehouse.”