Village Science - Teacher Edition


Cutting & Drying Fish

Teacher Edition Contents

Skill, Tools, & Craftsmanship

Cutting & Drying Fish
Nails, Pegs, & Lashings
Falling Trees &
     Small-Scale Logging
Chainsaw Clutch & Chain
Ice Pick


Wood Stoves
Wall Tents
Insulation & Vapor Barriers
Gas Lamps & Gas Stoves


Piloting A Boat
Boat Design
Magnetos & Spark Plugs
Outboard Motor Lower Unit

Outboard Motor Cooling System
Snowmachine Tracks
Snowmachine Clutch
Winter Trails


  1. Look at and discuss the smokehouse locations in and around the village. What do they have in common? In what ways are they different? Find some of the older fishcamp sites in your area. Why were they located there?

    Nowadays many people have smokehouses located close to their homes where the fire can be tended easily. Smokehouses double as storage sheds in other seasons. Older fishcamp sites are located in dry windy locations with close access to the fish net or wheel.

  2. What are the common materials for smokehouse roofing and siding? Are the roofs relatively flat or do they have a steep pitch?

    People now use steel, although it gets hot. Steel is durable and sheds snow. Bark is cool, but doesn’t last long at all. Most smokehouse roofs are still rather flat pitch.

  3. Ask what local wood is used for smudge fire. What is that fire called in your village?

    Smudge wood is usually whatever is local and plentiful. Only in Kodiak have I seen spruce used. Other places use birch, willow, alder etc.

  4. Ask people in your village what changes they make in their drying process when the weather turns bad.

    Cut the fish thinner so they can dry faster.

  5. Do people in your village usually bring the fish right into the smokehouse after cutting or do they leave them on poles outside for a few days to get a dry crust?

    Usually dogfeed is hung outside for several days to get a dry crust before being brought into the smokehouse. Eating fish is brought straight into the smokehouse, but this varies from area to area.

  6. Make a trap for blowflies like a fishtrap. Use a jar with a screen for the funnel. Use a piece of sour fish for bait. Can you reduce the number of blowflies in your area?

    A large jar with a screen funnel works well. It is hard to reduce the number of bloflies. They keep coming and coming…

  7. Cut a fish into three pieces. Put one in the freezer. Score the other and hang it to dry. Leave the third one, as it is, in a warm place. In a day or two, compare the three. What can you say about preserving fish?

    The frozen fish will not rot because the bacteria can’t multiply when the temperature is so low. The dried fish will not rot because the water content of the fish is reduced so bacteria cannot multiply. The other fish will rot in a short time.

  8. Leave a fish outside where blowflies can lay their eggs. Once the maggots start to crawl around, bring the fish into the smokehouse and put the fish directly into the smoke. Does the smoke get rid of the maggots? Does the fish ever dry properly? What can you say about prevention being better than a cure?

    Once the maggots are on the fish, smoke will not get rid of them. The fish will not dry properly. The maggots seem to make their own moist pockets. Prevention of maggot infestation is the only solution. Some oldtimers used to scrape the maggots out with a spoon, but no one seems to have that kind of patience any more.

  9. Get samples of different people’s fish throughout the village. Being careful not to insult someone’s cutting style, compare them. Compare dog fish and eating fish.

    Be careful no family is insulted.

  10. Why do people cut king salmon in strips rather than flat like red salmon or other eating fish?

    King salmon are too big to cut like blanket fish. The each side would be too thick and would spoil, or too much meat would have to be left on the backbone.

  11. Try to find some dry dog fish that has the evidence of maggots. Can you see and smell the difference from that part and other unspoiled parts?

    The place looks like it was once infected. It has a foul smell even after it is dry.

  12. Ask someone how to cut whitefish in the fall. How is this different from salmon in the summer? Why do you think there are differences? Distinguish between cutting whitefish for dogs and for people.

    Whitefish cut in the fall don’t need as much surface area exposed as the temperature is much cooler. In cutting for dogs it is actually better to have the fish sour a little.

  13. Hang fish on a spruce, birch, or willow pole. Can you tell the difference in terms of friction between the pole and fish?

    Spruce is much rougher. Birch and willow are quite slippery. The fish are apt to fall.

  14. How are salmon bundled and stored in your village. If this is a thing of the past, ask how it used to be done.

    A few people still bundle fish. We used to buy and sell dogfeed in bundles of forty. Now most people put them loose in the cache or leave them hanging in the smokehouse.

  15. Why do people make and use fishrafts? In your village, what do they use on top of the cutting table to keep the fish from slipping around?

    Fishrafts make cleaning fish much easier, and they keep the fish from spoiling until they are cut. Fish exposed to the sun spoil within a few hours.

  16. Find out about the fermenting methods used in your village for preparing fish heads. Have you ever tried “smelly heads?”

    People still eat “smelly heads,’ although they are careful not to eat too many. Most often they are buried in a pit lined with birchbark. Some people put fireweed leaves in with the heads. The fish can be dug up much later and used as food, although other means of preserving food have replaced this method.

Student Response

  1. What are the two oppositions of those trying to dry fish?

    Blowflies and bacteria that causes rotting

  2. What keeps blowflies away?


  3. What requirements are there for fish to rot?

    Moisture and heat.

    Which of these is the easiest to remove?

    Easier to remove moisture. Some coastal villages are dry enough with sufficient wind that smokehouses aren’t necessary.

  4. What are the factors that determine how we cut and prepare fish?

    The weather is the main thing. Location of smokehouse is also important

  5. Why is a good roof so important for a smokehouse?

    If the roof leaks, the fish can become damp again, allowing blowflies a second chance and rotting to occur.

  6. What are some of the better materials for smokehouse sides? Why is sheet iron not the best?

    Boards, slabs, spruce bark, brush, solid color plastic tarps. Sheet iron is too hot and promotes rotting.

  7. Describe what makes a location good for a smokehouse.

    Cool dry air, not much moisture in the ground. Clear the area of brush. This allows fresh air to circulate around the smokehouse.

  8. What is the secret of drying fish?

    Cool dry surroundings with enough smoke to keep flies out

  9. ________________ is increased when we cut fish. This speeds the drying process.

    Surface area. There is more surface from which the fish can allow moisture to evaporate

  10. What changes need to be made in the way fish are cut during wet weather?

    Less meat on the fish to be hung. Leave more on the backbone. The thinner fish will dry before rotting

  11. What changes might be made in the smudge wood during rainy weather?

    More heat to dry the fish. While heat is normally avoided, some is necessary in rainy weather.

  12. What type of tree makes the best fishpole? Why?

    Spruce. The bark is rough enough to hold the fish on the pole.

  13. Describe one way of bundling and storing fish.

    There are lots of ways. The main idea is to bundle dogfeed tightly in bundles that are easy to count—20, 40, etc. All fish should be stored in a well-vented cache with a good roof. The fish will stay dry and will not mold.


  1. Nick has 7 dogs. He figures that he needs 1 fish per day for each dog from freezeup to breakup, from October 1 through May 7. How many fish does he need to dry for the winter? (He can feed them fresh fish from his net during the summer.)


  2. Nick manages to get 1,400 fish. He gives away 2 dogs on January 1. Will he have enough fish to get through breakup on May 7?

    Yes. He will need 1561 minus (31 x 4 + 7)2 or 1299 fish

  3. Marjory has 5 dogs to feed from October 1 through May 7. She plans to cook for her dogs, supplementing with oatmeal. She will only need a half a fish per day for each dog. She has 600 fish. Will she have enough fish to make it to breakup?

    Yes. She needs 540 fish and has 600.

  4. Nick (from problem #1) has a chance to go to work instead of fishing. He figures that he can make $1,800 (after taxes) in the time he might be fishing. It costs 50 cents per day to feed a dog. Financially, is he better off fishing or going to work?

    Yes. If he buys fish it will cost $108 per dog x 7 or $756 to buy dogfeed. However, there are other considerations besides money. Family, what he enjoys the most, taxes etc.

  5. At 50 cents per day for commercial dog feed, how much does it cost to feed a dog from October 1 through May 7 for the life of the dog (12 years)?

    $108 x 12 = $1296

  6. Henry’s smokehouse has poles that are 6 feet long. Each pole can hold 9 fish on average. He counts the poles and finds that he has 127 poles full of fish. He needs 1400 fish to get his dogs through the winter. Can he stop fishing or should he fish more?

    Fish more. He only has 1143 fish.

  7. In Ed’s village an average king salmon dries out to 5 pounds of strips. He has 90 pounds of strips, but he needs a total of 150 pounds to get through the winter if he will have enough to give away at Christmas. How many more king salmon does he need?

    12 kings

Questions or comments?
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