The Start of Dip Netting

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I’m going to put myself on the spot to make sure I post more just by simply setting myself with the way too ambitious statement of:
This is Part 1 of a Two Part Post.

How’s that for getting me in trouble?

See, next weekend I am going to do something for the first time that is a big activity for Alaskan residents, that I only became eligible for this summer — That is “Dip Netting”.

Specifically, this is salmon fishing using a dip net technique.  The concept is not rocket science, mind you, it is exactly like the name suggests.  When the salmon are making a run up a river for spawning, you take a net and you dip it into the river and whatever swims into the net you keep. Where it gets interesting is when you start to hear about the scope of what you will do.

First of all, we aren’t talking about the little meshy things you use to play with gold fish, or those scoops they use in bass fishing that still look pretty big.  No … that’s child’s play.  Dip nets are either 48″ or 60″ round hoops … that’s up to 5 feet in diameter, or just a little bit smaller than I am tall.  They are attached to poles that can reach 10 feet in length.  In theory, you would take this net, wade out up to your hips into a river at the mouth of the ocean, slide the net out as far as you can, and when you feel something inside you pull it in.  The next step then is of course to “humanely euthanize the fish” with a foot long wooden bat against it’s head a couple times (I call my fish club ‘Billy’), then clean and cut it right there on the beach.

The period to dip net is pretty short lived and somewhat of a gambling junket.  For one thing, it has to happen during a salmon run – and that is not at all consistent when it happens.  They only come in with the high tide (though a return tide could bring some too), so you may have only a few hours in a day to actually get a shot at fishing.  The run usually goes on for a couple weeks in July when it’s unclear when it starts and stops – the fish just stop heading in at any point.  During busy days, like weekends, there could be literally hundreds of fishermen taking up a small area where the run is concentrated with all of their dip nets, making this more of combat dip netting than just plopping a net in and having a good day.  During certain periods of time, commercial fishermen just off the mouth of the rivers are allowed to load up their boats too, so the run could be thinned out just in the middle of a good day.

Dip netting is insanely popular for Alaskans, and heavily controlled by Fish & Wildlife management.  It’s popularity is the return on investment.  After buying a license, gear, freezing your catch, and even a campsite if you want to take it easy, you may have spent $200 for a day of dip netting — but the limit in a season for dip netting is HUGE.  You can take hope 25 Sockeye Red Salmon per person in your household, plus if there is more than one in your household you can take home an additional 10 reds.  To play this game conservatively – Sockeyes will yield more than 3lbs per fish, and can cost us in stores more than $12/lb.  So a family of two who brings in their limit of 60 fish would have in their freezer the equivalent of over $2000 worth of salmon.  And this is fresh Alaskan Sockeye, not the crap y’all get down in the Lower 48.  It’s salmon so good it converts salmon haters like I used to be.

Granted, most don’t catch their limit.  It takes some work to pull in 25 fish for yourself, and way more than that for your family.  But you can guess that this is a lot of fish that is harvested.  Last year in the Kenai river alone, it was estimated that a record of over a half of a million Sockeye Red Salmon were harvested by dip netting alone. So far, many have reported a slow start to the dip netting season, even though sonar suggests that over 300,000 salmon have made it past the dip netters & commercial fishermen in the last week and a half.  There is an expected peak either starting late this weekend or middle of next week, which is good for our plan date of July 25th.  In the end, this fishery is heavily managed and at least a million fish a year make it to the spawning grounds in the Kenai River during this three week run; so there is a lot of fish out there.

For you outdoorsmen, though, this probably sounds kinda fishy– pun intended.  There really any sport to this.  You put the net in the water, you pull up a fish, right?  Well, it’s not intended to be a “sport”.  One of the big gaps between many activities like this in Alaska compared to the rest of USA is that there is a high amount of ‘sustenance’ activities.  Sure, I live in as first world of a life as one can get, between my satellite TV, high speed internet, and wide range of coffee shops to visit (a wink goes out to those who know my favorite little coffee booth) – but sometimes feeding your family up here is very hard, especially for those who have always lived a ‘sustenance’ lifestyle.  As much as 25 fish seems a lot in a given day, spread out over an entire winter, that runs out quick — and since you only have this short window to catch them, the pressure is on to bring them in.  After dip netting, your left with the old limits of lake or river fishing of 3 a day, and that could take hours spent picking berries, growing grains, or building items to prepare for the winter.  Of course, I don’t need the salmon for sustenance – and yes I will make it fun – but chances are if Sockeyes were so tasty, I wouldn’t be this excited.

So, that’s the start.  I’ll let you know how it goes in a couple weeks.

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