I don't really want to blog about dipnetting, but it is the ultimate "Alaskan" experience so I feel obligated to.
My cousins go dipnetting at the mouth of the Kenai River every year, and most years they seem to come back it seems just a few hours later with 30-60 salmon. Each head of household is allowed 25 salmon, and each additional person in the family gets 10. Our family of 4 could get 55 salmon. Figure at 7 pounds apiece, that would be 385 pounds of salmon we could can, freeze and smoke. It's free food, in terms of money, but it is costly in terms of equipment and time.
We tagged along with my cousin Kelli and her husband Todd when they went dipnetting Tuesday. We didn't know a thing, and we borrowed their (and my aunt and uncle's) equipment, so it really felt like going along for the ride. We had to buy an Alaskan fishing license for $24, which is good for all fishing for the whole year (just for Douglas). The best dipnetting is 2 hours before and after the high tide; we got there at 9:30, just after high tide.
The process: People have 10-15 foot poles with huge nets on the end. Everyone has chest waders on (and occasional wetsuits or drysuits) and they stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder, for maybe a mile or so up and down the beach at the mouth of the Kenai, Kasilof or Fish Rivers on the Kenai Peninsula (there are other places to go, I believe, but these are the most popular). They stand there and hold their net until a fish swims into it. Then they drag it ashore where they usually have someone who bonks it with a club, pulls it out of the net, bleeds it, cuts off its tail fins (state law), rinses it off and tosses it in a cooler standing nearby. Some people actually fillet them on the spot, but most people don't.
Doug and Todd were out there for 3 hours. Doug, standing near the shore with a net, didn't get any fish. Todd puts on a wetsuit and flippers and floats down the river, comes in to shore, then walks back upstream. He had the best day of anyone we saw: he got 7 fish. A few days earlier 68,000 fish went through the counter 18 miles upstream. The day before, 29,000 fish went through. So it's a guessing game of how many fish are going to come through the day you go dipnetting. We were not in luck, and though we learned a lot, I was very disappointed. We spent 5+ hours in the car getting to Kenai to fish, plus gas money, for no fish to take home. I'd had visions of filleting till the wee hours of the morning. Ha.
People from Anchorage take a week and they camp out, dipnetting every day. Diamond M Ranch is packed in July. They have a nice setup: a fish cleaning station and free freezer space, and they're only a few minutes from the river. Most people camp on the beach at the mouth of the river or at campgrounds all over the area. The stores are overflowing with people, and smokers, nets, waders, coolers are hot items. There is a craziness to life around Soldotna and Kenai in July as the population of Anchorage descends upon them.
Now we have to decide if we're going to stay in Alaska long enough to make the investment in dipnetting equipment worth it!