Mystery Fish Revealed

Candlefish. Skeena Turkey. Starvation Buster. Call it what you like it’s an Oolie.
We got a lot of interesting answers on the mystery fish, most noted being the rainbow smelt.

But this is no rainbow smelt. Instead, the fish pictured is an oolichan, which is native to British Columbia and Alaska streams and is treasured by native peoples who harvested the fish in massive quantities and then rendered all sorts of products from the fish, most notably its oil. The guy who got the name of the fish correct? Travis Lowe of Kelowna, British Columbia. Lowe is a newscamera editor for CHBC News and he shoots films and is currently working on one about ranchers and spring creeks, which we will feature on AT in the coming months.

Back to the oolie. These fish were eaten, too. Some were smoked, others dried in the sun. Somewhere along the line the fish picked up the nickname, “The Skeena Turkey,” although I have trouble thinking that an oily fish ever tasted like a turkey. A more telling nickname is “candlefish” which it achieved because you can stick a wick down its throat, light it on fire and it will burn indefinitely. They were also called, “starvation busters,” because they arrived in the spring and, for obvious reasons, were in lean years considered a godsend.

Grease rendered from the fish was used for medical purposes, too. In fact, a cup of the stuff was thought to cure stomach cramps, which it probably did in a fashion I won’t describe here. It was also used to soothe aching muscles and was rubbed on women after childbirth.

Sadly, oolichan are threatened in some areas they are native to and altogether gone in other places. The oolichan pictured here is from Alaska’s Kanektok River. I found the fish on the bank while fishing for king salmon at Alaska West,

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