Susan C. Anthony

Friends dipnettingDipnetting for Salmon

July 15, 2007

The first time I dipnetted for salmon (Dennis had done so many times), it was at the invitation of our neighbor Bill. He had a boat he took out on the Kasilof River. The most efficient way to fish from a boat is with two people netting and one driving the boat, so he'd asked us to join him. We rode with him 140 miles to Soldotna, launched his air boat, whizzed down the river to the mouth and lowered the dipnets.

Hours passed. Motor upstream, drift downstream. Motor up, drift down. More hours. We finally gave up, having caught just one fish, Bill's all-time record poorest catch in a day. His previous record low was 10 fish.

Next day, same routine. Five hours of motoring up and drifting netted us (literally) a few more fish. We were ready to quit when salmon arrived by the thousands! We netted as many as five per drift. What slowed us down was untangling them and getting the nets back into the water.

Within a few hours, we caught 32 fresh and tasty red salmon. What a rush!

July 16, 2012

Dennis holding shiny red salmon.My next chance to dipnet came in 2012. Because of a record low run of king salmon, Fish and Game shut down the professional setnetters. As a result, a record high number of red salmon reached the Kenai River. Blogs reported that the river was "plugged" with fish! A friend with a boat invited us to join him and others, thinking we could all get our limits in this unusual year.

It wasn't quite as easy as expected. Sometimes we made drift after drift without a hit.  Other times fish arrived in huge numbers and we pulled two to three at a time into the boat.  It's an adrenaline rush when fish hit the net, and a challenge to get them aboard before they wiggle out.

Dipnetting is a regulated subsistence fishery for Alaska residents only.  A requirement is that the fish tails be cut in a distinctive way because none of these fish can be sold. We shared some of our fish with elderly neighbors and cold-smoked most of it. It's expensive to process, but cold-smoked salmon is our favorite, and a great treat for non-Alaskan friends (Alaskans, too, for that matter).

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