Bethea said starting the business made sense after hearing rave reviews from friends and family about the salmon they brought back to Colorado every year.
“Every year after we shared our fish and talked about our fish … we were like, ‘I think we can make a deal out of this,'” Bethea said.
The couple now return to Alaska every summer where they catch thousands of pounds of sockeye salmon in world-famous Bristol Bay.
Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run. Salmon swim out to sea from the bay, where they take a few years to grow and mature. Once ready to spawn, they swim thousands of miles to spawn in Bristol Bay’s nine major rivers – and then are scavenged by fishermen like Bethea and Linscheid.
That year saw fishermen break records as 79 million fish returned to Bristol Bay. The record-breaking numbers have made the fishery incredibly successful – generating a $2 billion economic impact while supporting 15,000 seasonal workers. Commercial fishermen account for 8,000 of these jobs.
While most fishermen sell the salmon they catch on the world market, Bethea and Linscheid are among a small group — a few dozen — who bring their salmon home to sell locally. They freeze it and return to their homeland in fair play in the fall, loading the salmon wagon and selling their freshly caught fish in neighboring mountain towns.
“We enjoy the communities. We are part of a mountain community,” said Linscheid. “We like the people, we like the atmosphere of the whole deal.”
Every fall weekend, the couple spends Friday through Sunday selling salmon to mountain folk. They rotate between Fairplay, Buena Vista, Silverthorne, Crested Butte, Salida and Fraser.
On this day in Crested Butte, they rush to set up a pop-up tent and folding table. A colorful banner with photos that show her exciting job as a professional fisherman serves as a backdrop. Their jobs are tough, they say, but you might not know from the photos.
“I don’t know if you can tell from the photos,” Bethea said, laughing. “But we only think about taking photos when it’s nice, flat and calm and we’re blowing bubbles.”
In mid-October, Crested Butte’s leaves have fallen and snow is on the trail. From noon on that day, a steady stream of cars builds up in front of the tent. Bethea stands behind the table to greet customers while Linscheid packs orders into the trailer.
Krista Hildebrandt lives in Crested Butte and picked up the 15 pounds of salmon she pre-ordered online. She said it’s difficult to get fresh fish down the street in Crested Butte, so she was excited to order salmon after hearing about Savor the Wild.
“So when I heard word of mouth from a handful of friends that they were getting salmon from this lovely team, I thought, ‘This is great!’” said Hildebrandt.
When Hildebrandt opened her box, she gasped with delight. For her, 15 pounds was more than enough to stock her freezer for the whole winter.
While some Crested Butte residents ordered online, many customers who pulled up are new. And in small communities like Crested Butte, good news travels fast—like Nicole Swaggerty’s.
“I’m a freshman too!” Swaggerty told the couple. “And similar to him, just a friend, word of mouth through the Facebook post.”
Swaggerty said she’s looking forward to nourishing her body on fish and omegas with Crested Butte’s cold winter on the way. She also looks forward to finding quality salmon at a reasonable price.
Although the customers were eager to buy, they were also curious to learn more about Bethea and Linscheid’s life as professional fishermen. The couple own two boats and both have their own crew.
“That summer I had five people on my boat and he had four on his,” Bethea explained. “And you can always use more hands.”
The couple explains that the work is exciting and hard. They often work all night and only take a few hours off during the day. And the weather on Bristol Bay can be rough and unpredictable.
“You just have to wake up ready – not knowing what’s going to happen out there,” Linscheid said. “And that’s the excitement of Bristol Bay, it’s kind of a gamble.”
Although they crew their own boats, the two stay close as they fish around the clock to catch as much as they can.
Back in Colorado, they also take the time to explain to each customer how the fish make their way from Alaska to the Centennial State. Once the salmon leave their boat, they are hand cut, deboned and then frozen.
“From there it goes into a freezer container and by boat from Naknek, Alaska to Seattle,” Bethea said. “Then it’s trucked from the Bellingham area to Denver, where we store it at Mile High Cold Storage.”
Bethea said their frozen salmon is just as delicious as eating the fillets they grill on the back deck of their boats. The pair say they tested their theory on the water.
“So we both grilled freshly caught salmon right on our back deck — never frozen,” said Bethea. “And we couldn’t tell the difference between what we pull out of our freezer here in Colorado and the fish that comes fresh off the net.”
Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said buying from fishermen like Bethea and Linscheid ensures quality.
“If you’re buying it from a direct marketer like Hayden and Jaymi, you’re probably getting an extra quality check,” Wink said. “I think it’s just that kind of personal connection, knowing where your food is coming from.”
At the end of the day in Crested Butte, Linscheid stood in the couple’s trailer and counted the remaining salmon fillets. They have sold all but about £25 they brought from Fairplay that day and the couple are closer to their goal of selling £6,000 by the end of the year – which will double their business from last year.
They ski all winter, and next summer they’re going back to Alaska.
“It’s just so much fun, really,” Linscheid said. “It’s hard work. But it’s just fun when the weather isn’t great, the fishing is fine and you’re with your crew and just doing your best to make a living and do something else.