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Dipnetting at Kenai in a moonlight scurry

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by Candy Clarke

 

On a recent visit to see our youngest daughter, it was suggested we go salmon fishing. Her boyfriend, being knowable about these matters, suggested we go to Kenai where “the reds are in.” As we begin packing the fishing equipment, he tells our daughter that the new expensive insulated waders she recently purchased and is so very proud of are absolutely useless for this fishing trip. We can see she is obviously upset. He goes on to explain, not just any ordinary insulated waders will keep her warm enough. Not to worry though, he has a sister-in-law who has the right type of waders. A quick phone call and a generous sister-in-law has us ready to go. We head out for a 2.5-hour drive to begin our fishing adventure.

We arrive at our destination at 10:30 p.m. For most people, this is the time we think about going to bed or are already in bed. Not us, we are busy finding a fishing spot, distributing the equipment, and starting a campfire. Who needs sleep when there’s fishing to be done? This particular fishing site is Kenai in south central Alaska and it is getting dark by the time we arrive. I look along the beach at all the people and the campfires and I am amazed by what I see. There are tents and homemade shelters everywhere.

These people are certainly serious about their fishing. No fishing poles here. Instead, they have huge big nets on very long poles and are standing out in the ocean (sometimes walking) in water up to their armpits holding the big nets waiting for the red salmon to swim into the net. Dipnetting for the reds at Kenai has begun! It may sound boring, but, believe me, it was anything but boring.

Let me back up and explain a bit about the process of dipnetting in Alaska. First, there are only a few places within the state where dipnetting is permitted. Second, dipnetting is only allowed for a short period of time, depending on the location. Third, only 25 red salmon are permitted to be harvested per permit holder and 10 for each additional family member per year. Next, the state requires all dipnets to be 5 feet at its widest point, and then, ½ of that in depth, and this is to be supported on all sides by a rigid frame. Now add in the cool Alaskan temperatures and the cold waters., and last, but certainly not least, are the long poles to which the dipnets are attached. They range from about 12 feet to 20 feet long, depending on the individual’s preference. Okay, so you are beginning to get the idea. Now imagine standing in the cold water and holding the dipnet for long periods of time. That’s dipnetting for reds at Kenai!

Reluctantly, at 3:30 a.m.. we decided it would be wise to catch a few hours sleep. The youngsters were tired! Good thing, too. I would have hated to end the fun by saying I was tired. Actually, I had the easiest part of the entire process, so I wasn’t too tired. Since my waders weren’t warm enough, I exchanged nets, held flashlights, etc. for the other three. I got all the easy stuff. It was wonderful fun watching everyone scurry about in the moonlight, trying to find just the right spot for the fish to bump their net. Then to see their excitement when they netted one! It was more entertaining than any television program.

Definitely an experience to remember.