Making Dry Fish at Tree River

The Mackenzie River contains very important stocks of various Whitefish species and Inconnu or Coni such as this one held aloft by Gabe Andre and James Moonie.

For generations the Andre family has netted Whitefish and Coni at the mouth of Tree River or Dachan chuu gehnjiga. These cabins were also used as main dwellings during the winter trapping season.

When the fish are running there is hardly a moment's rest. Nets have to emptied regularly and the fish must be processed as soon as possible, before more are brought in.

The fish are first scaled, headed and cleaned. The thick filets are removed as is a strip of meat on either side of the backbone. This "strip" is a choice piece. Pounded dryfish is sometimes mixed with berries or sugar to make a tasty snack

The thick filets must be scored in order to speed drying and expose more of the flesh to the smoke. Experienced dryfish makers always cut away when scoring the filets and never cut through the skin.

Once the filets, strip and backbones have air-dried, they are placed in a smoke-house to cure in the smoke of a slowly burning fire. The purpose of the fire is to produce smoke, not heat. The dryfish is then very light and will last several months if kept dry.

Even as clean-up takes place, the nets are again filling with more fish.