It’s not just hiking that makes the Margaret River region so spectacular – the marine life in also impressive, especially during salmon season. While hiking the Cape to Cape Track we often spot huge schools of salmon, attracting anglers and ocean predators alike!

April is a time when local waters are at their warmest, herring are at their fattest, and the celebrated Australian salmon are making their annual run up the coast.

The salmon migrate with the warm Leeuwin Current that is vital for them to lay their eggs.  They congregate in particular abundance about the Margaret River Region.  Here, great black whirlpools of up to 50-tonne of schooling fish strike a brilliant contrast against dazzling white sands and provide a sporting target for anglers, who can catch fish of up to ten kilograms directly off the beach.

Fishing Cape Cultural Tours

For millennia, April and May have a time when the Aboriginal Noongar people begin making their way from inland areas out to the coast.

When the marri blossoms begin to flower and the early morning dews and fogs began to arrive, they knew that plenty of fat salmon, or ngari, were beginning their journey up the coast to spawn. They camped in bays, like Geographe, where the town site of Dunsborough is today, and built stone fish traps.  From the beach and rocks, they speared fish from the thick black schools swimming past, smoking them in paperbark over she-oak and jarrah coals on the beach.

Although those traditional journeys of the old people may have since disappeared, you’ll still find many Noongar people and non-Aboriginal too making their way from all over to fish for salmon on the Margaret River coast.

 

Fishing Cape Cultural Tours

For everyone, the salmon season is a time for celebration and enjoyment, says Wadandi custodian and Koomal Dreaming tour operator, Josh Whiteland.

“Salmon season has always been one of my favourite times of year. It brings a lot of families back to the coastal areas for that [salmon] migration.  It is a celebrational thing,” he says.

“It brings all the Noongars out too from places like Boyup Brook, Bunbury, Kojonup, Dumbleyung, Williams, Collie.  You come out to the coast and you see all the Noongars fishing along the rocks, and that is how it has always been.

“I remember sitting down there on the rocks as a kid, and my great-great-grandfather would have been sitting there doing the same thing, generations before.”

Fishing Cape Cultural Tours

While the onset of this season has been later than previous years, it has been better, says Josh, with salmon arriving in greater numbers and fatter than usual.

“The salmon have been running good. It’s better than the last few years. They were a little bit late, we were looking at April for a decent run. They are big salmon though, a bit fatter.  Sometimes, if the water is too warm they will stay out wide. The last few years they have gone wide and spawned, this year they have come in closer.”

While Josh sometimes still makes traditional fish spears to hunt with, he says the easiest way to fish for salmon is using lures, either metal twisties, stick baits, or poppers, and casting into passing schools.

Smoked Salmon Cape Cultural Tours

Australian salmon are a strong-tasting fish, and need to be treated with care and eaten as fresh as possible to ensure the best results, he says.

“You gotta bleed ‘em. Put them in cold saltwater here on the rocks, or on ice if you have it. Don’t leave them laying there in the sun. Take it home, and fillet it fresh. If you want to smoke it you can do a salty brine. Even wrapping it up in alfoil with butter and lemon. The old people used to wrap them up in paper bark. Or even just plain old pan-fried. It just has to be fresh. You can’t freeze it. And so the best way is to only take what you need.”

So, you’ve caught your salmon. Now how best to enjoy it?

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Traditional Method: Smoking

Smoking Australian salmon is one of the best ways to enjoy the fish. It imparts a delicate smoky flavour to the strong dark meat.

“Traditionally, salmon would be wrapped in paper bark and smoked over smouldering sheoak, banksia, or jarrah – anything with a fair amount of resin,” says Wadandi cultural custodian, Josh Whiteland.

Salmon is easily smoked at home, even without a sophisticated gas smoker. Allow a fire to burn down to white hot coals, and then add green banksia or sheoak wood to smoke the salmon resting on a rack above. Banksia nuts soaked in water also smoke very well.

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Traditional Method: Cooking on Coals

Salmon can be cooked directly on hot white coals. This way, the skin and scales are left on to protect the meat and will easily peel away when the fish is cooked. They would also be stuffed and spiced straight on the beach using coastal shrubs endemic to Western Australia.

“Traditionally it would be stuffed with saltbush, dune spinach, and sea celery. You leave their scales on, so when they are cooked you can just pull the skin and the scales off and they are ready to eat,” says Josh Whiteland.

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Contemporary Method: Curry

Most contemporary anglers choose to bleed their fish immediately upon catching it. This improves the eating quality of the fish.  It is done by slitting the gills and slicing the fish along its throat, before dunking it in water to prevent the blood from coagulating. The fish is often then skinned, scaled, and filleted, with the dark bloody sections of meat cut away.

Australian salmon is excellent in any variety of red or green curry. It’s best paired with garlic, ginger, coriander, and chili, and even better when washed down with an icy cold Eagle Bay brew!

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Contemporary Method: Salmon Patties (with a bonus recipe!)

Mince salmon fillets either with two large meat cleavers or in a food processor.

Blend into a thick pattie mix with onion, egg, breadcrumbs, and any combination of herbs and spices.

For an oriental variety, try garlic, ginger, coriander, as much chilli as desired, fish sauce, palm sugar, and a little rice wine vinegar.

For European flavours try dill, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and parsley.

Fry in a heavy-based frypan on medium heat. Wash down with an icy cold glass of Chardonnay or dry white wine from any of Margaret River’s world-class wineries.  A true regional special!

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