David Fair, of Anchorage, carries a setnet stake through the mud toward shore as the tide retreats Saturday at the mouth of the Kasilof River.
Photo by Patrice Kohl
Jeff Elkins watched from a beach near the mouth of the Kasilof River as his son-in-law removed a sockeye from their set gillnet early Saturday afternoon. The tide was retreating back into Cook Inlet and Elkins and his son-in-law, Ben Linford, thought they had picked the net clean earlier in the morning, but discovered a straggler while straightening the net.
After a short struggle with the net, Linford returned to shore ginning beneath a baseball cap and pair of rectangular-framed glasses, as he carried the bonus fish to shore.
On Thursday, the personal-use setnet fishery opened on beaches leading into the mouth of the Kasilof River, drawing families and friends together to catch and process sockeye.
Compared to other years, however, this year’s sockeye catch seemed a little slow, Elkins said Saturday.
“We’re catching fish, but we haven’t seen an abundance,” he said.
But Elkins was not aiming to catch his limit and was optimistic that he, Linford and the two friends they were fishing with would catch enough to feed the four families they were fishing for.
“It’s not about the max, it’s about the need,” he said.
Jim Norcoss Sr. guts the morning's catch of sockeye salmon Saturday.
Photo by Patrice Kohl
The fishery is also about time spent with family and friends as you watch the nets catch fish for your freezer, he added.
“I call it the gentleman’s way of fishing,” Elkins said. “The only thing that’s missing is a fine cigar.”
“And a fine wine,” Linford chimed in.
But not everyone takes a leisurely approach to setnet fishing.
Within shouting distance of where Elkins and Linford’s net stretched from the beach, a group of eight families had organized their fishing trip by age, task and shift, with the adults picking the early morning catches and teenagers picking the late-night catches.
When troopers stopped to check permits and catch records, they said the group had the most organized record-keeping system they had seen so far, said Tom Hardwick, a member of the group.
The eight-family group were using five nets and a boat to catch and pick fish. By Saturday they had caught 333 sockeye and four kings, and were confident they would net the 480 salmon that regulations allow them to catch.
The sockeye were cleaned and iced to be eaten throughout the year and the group prepared their king salmon for immediate consumption.
“We eat them while we’re here, because there’s nothing like a king on the barbie,” said Steve Barnett, another member of the group.
At their camp on the beach, Barnett opened a cooler and displayed the largest of the king salmon they had caught. Barnett bent over, hooked his fingers into the fish’s gills and leaned backward as he hoisted the fish up to his shoulder.
Barnett wore an American flag-print bandana and beamed at the fish that hung from his shoulder to just above his ankles.
No one had measured or weighed the king, but Barnett estimated it weighed about 55 pounds.
While the eight-family group appeared to be well on its way to a feast of king and catching their limit, having a boat put them at an advantage over most of the other setnet fishermen along the beach. Most used all-terrain vehicles or hip boots to stretch nets from shore and could not fish as far into the inlet as fishermen with boats.
And like Elkins, other boatless setnet fishermen reported slow catches. But the boatless fishermen remained confident they could still catch what they needed, if not their limit.
With two permits and six household members between them, Jim Norcoss Sr. and Jim Norcoss Jr. said regulations would allow them to take as many as 100 salmon. But Norcoss Jr. said they would be happy to catch even half that amount.
By Saturday, Norcoss Jr. said the largest catch they had picked contained 12 fish, a far cry from their biggest catch last year of 40 fish.
But he said he expected a bigger catch after Saturday evening’s incoming tide.
And Norcoss Jr. said his family fishes the Kasilof setnet fishery for more than just fish.
“We bring the kids down and it’s just a big camping trip for them,” he said.
The fishery also acts as a small family reunion for the Norcoss family, some of which resides in both Homer and Willow, he said.
The Kasilof River setnet fishery closes at 11 p.m. Saturday. Each permit holder is allowed to take 25 salmon. No more than one person per household is allowed a permit, and the permit can also be used to catch 10 salmon for each additional household member.
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