Every spring, in the middle of May, hundreds of Alaskans put on their waders and grab their nets to harvest hooligan, a small fish found along the Pacific coast of North America from northern California to Alaska. Once a vital part of diet and a source of income for many indigenous communities of the Pacific Coast, hooligan dipnetting has become more of a recreational activity for Native Americans and other residents. Hooligan oil aka grease was one of the most valuable products sold in the interior Alaska, and as a result, the trade routes became to be known as “grease trails”. The high fat content of hooligan makes it possible to burn dried fish as a candle hence one of its many names – candlefish.
Congregation of predators like seagulls, eagles, seals, and whales near the rivers is one of the signs that hooligan are running. Hooligan usually run after high tide, and their numbers can sometimes reach tens of thousands, which allows dipnetters to scoop up fish with ease.
The most popular way to prepare hooligan is to fry them, but I prefer to grill or broil them with a little bit of salt and pepper and sprinkle some lime or lemon juice over them once the fish are ready to eat.
Because hooligan are small in size, they are typically stored frozen whole without being gutted, but they can also be dried, canned, or smoked. Nowadays, the fish is also used as a bait and food for dogs and cats.
Whether you are an Alaska resident or you live in an area where the fish run, give hooligan dipnetting a try. It is a fun activity for the whole family, and children are the ones who have the most fun!