Paley prefers to cook chinook using cedar planks. He marinates the fish in brown sugar, salt, and orange zest, then tops it with Walla Walla onions and basil. But lest you feel constrained by such a traditionally Northwest preparation, he also suggests serving it as a fresh sashimi-style dish by lightly curing it in a drizzle of lemon, sea salt, and olive oil—the perfect complement to a spring salad.

Of course, you may have been eating salmon all winter, since rows of perfectly pink steaks beckon from behind grocery-store glass year-round, but for Paley and other chefs, the ubiquitous and less expensive farm-raised alternative is “not an option.” Some argue that the omega-3 levels in commercially farmed fish are lower than those in wild fish, and that the meat may be laced with pollutants and antibiotics; others fear that Atlantic kings being farmed on the West Coast could spread infectious diseases and that nonnative escapees could threaten the local ecosystem and the health of wild runs. There’s also the fact that the lovely uniform pink of those ever-present grocery steaks owes to little more than additives.

“We as consumers need to understand that when salmon aren’t in season, there are other fish out there,” Paley says in the hopes that people will wait, like he does, to get their salmon fixes in the spring.

A dismal 2008 run and dreary predictions about the 2009 harvest have many retailers antsy about scarce supplies and soaring prices, though costs are expected to drop slightly from last year’s high (wild spring chinook can run upward of $20 per pound). Fishermen are anticipating a commercial haul of about six thousand Columbia River chinook, which translates to roughly a hundred thousand pounds of Columbia kings in the marketplace. Get ’em while you can.