The sun and heat on Saturday drove many of the more than 300 people on the Kenai River dipnet beaches into the water.
During the opening weekend of the most widely used personal-use dipnetting beach in the state, several hundred people made their way to Kenai for a chance at the 3.7 million sockeye Fish and Game predicted would be harvested during the 2015 fishing season. Many reported slow fishing and smaller-than-average catches.
“Very few people (are catching),” said Matthew Dollick, of Wasilla. “Everyone has one or two and they’re smaller than usual.” The 16-year-old caught his first sockeye for the weekend after about 45 minutes of fishing on Saturday.
Alta Horst, Sonya Adams and Teri Naylor, all from the Nana region in northwest Alaska, worked to fillet a pile of fish they’d caught. As they worked, Alta paused every few seconds to cut the waste into small pieces before tossing it to a growing flock of nearby seagulls. As they waited for scraps, the gulls fought and squawked. The noise at times grew deafening.
“At least we’re not wasting it aye?,” Horst said.
Naylor, too, said the fishing seemed slow.
“We usually go out on the boat, but we came to the beach this year,” she said. “I like being on the boat, you get more fish.”
Naylor also said he felt the sockeye were smaller than usual. Horst, however, said it’s typical to see smaller fish during the first part of the dipnet fishery.
“I’ve seen a couple of them that are small today,” she said. She sliced a fish head open to remove the gills before tossing it into a plastic bag with the rest of the fillets. “But all the years I’ve come here, the ones in the first half of July are always smaller than the ones in the second half.”
Many in their group will camp on the beach and fish until Tuesday.
Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates said he wasn’t sure how many people had used the beach over the weekend, but that the city would have firmer numbers by Monday. On Saturday, nearly 40 tents lined the north beach of the Kenai River mouth. While more than 70 people stood in the water fishing, an equal number laid on beach chairs, on blankets and towels in the sand or under the shade of a tent as the heat climbed to 65 degrees.
As she finished filleting the fish in front of her, Horst headed to clean her knife blade as the rest of her group packed the fillet table and cleaned up their mess.
“I’ll come back with my own children during the last week,” she said. “I’d like to avoid the weekends and come during the off-time, but if it runs into the weekend that’s fine because I’ll have my fish and be ready to go while everyone else scrambles.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org