To describe Kenai as a sleepy little town would only be accurate for part of the time. During the winter, when sub-zero temperatures and blowing snow dominate, it could almost be called comatose. Then there’s July. July is when the red salmon, or sockeye, make their appearance. At that point Kenai could best be described as frenetic.
Reds return to the Kenai River in profusion to spawn. So do those who want to prevent the spawning. I don’t know what everyone has against fish fornication, but tourists from all over the world and half of Anchorage show up to do their part in trying to uphold the morals of the fish.
|The reds are in the river... that's an emergency.|
|This picture was taken at 7 am. It gets more crowded.|
|Almost more net than car.|
While visitors to the area are restricted to catching reds with rod and reel, residents of Alaska can partake in what is called a “personal use” fishery for reds. From July 10 through July 31 is dipnetting season on the Kenai River. Alaskan residents from throughout the state, but predominantly from Anchorage, arrive in droves, driving everything from huge motor homes to compact cars. All of the vehicles sport large nets.
It’s the dipnetting crowd that causes most of the uproar. There’s just so damn many of them! They’re like maggots on a dead moose. Every campground, RV park and parking lot is crammed with vehicles. The local Little League field parking lot serves as overflow parking. Believe it, or not, ice becomes a precious commodity… in Alaska!
|7:30 am at the river. Only 3% are locals on the beach.|
The process has evolved since it was first allowed in 1989 as a response to an over escapement of reds up the river. (The commercial fishing fleet was closed down due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.) At first, we truly did dipnet. Using the largest landing nets we could find, we’d sweep the net through the water to scoop up the fish. At times the fish were in so thick that it wasn’t uncommon to get two, or even three, fish per sweep. In a few years, however, somebody figured out that method involved a lot of physical effort. Enter today’s version of the dipnet: a five-foot hoop with netting and a long handle. There is no dipping involved anymore, the net is pushed out into the river and the “fisherman” waits until he feels a fish hit the net, then drags it out.
|Carrying their "dipnets" to the water.|
|Thanks for doing the math, but can we go over the combo package, please?|