Submerged gillnet snags fish, wildlife

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2008

When Funny River resident David Haeg went fishing last month he hoped to land a lunker, and while he didn't pull in what he wanted, he did pull up something huge that should ensure others will more catch fish.

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Photo Courtesy David And Jackie Haeg
Photo Courtesy David And Jackie Haeg
While still sorting through tackle tangled in a massive underwater snag, David Haeg of Funny River has already pulled out a variety of Spin-N-Glos and other lures, as well as weights, hooks, swivels and beads.

"It was a pretty big mess," he said in regard to a massive underwater snag that he got caught on May 21, while fishing for Dolly Varden just up water from where Torpedo Lake dumps into the Kenai River.

"We got caught up on it and could see a mass with a big glow of lures shining," he said.

Rather than a piece of underwater deadfall or some other natural object that occasionally hinders angler efforts, this snag appeared -- through the shallow, clear water -- to be of human origin. As such, Haeg decided to pull it up a little to better investigate what it was.

He, his wife Jackie, and daughters Kayla and Cassie, were surprised by what they found, as the snag turned out to be two tangled set-gillnets with an incredible number of fishing lures and other fishing related items in them -- but that wasn't the worst of it.

"It had all kinds of decomposed body parts in it, including a bunch of rainbows and a few ducks. It stunk to high heaven," he said.

Seeing the rainbow trout, a species that is intensively managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Haeg said he contacted them with his concern that other fish could be fatally tangled in the mess.

"I called them right away and when they heard there was rainbows in there, they said get it out if I could," he said.

Haeg and his family tried to raise the obstruction with their anchor, but they couldn't quite muster it out of the water safely. Haeg went back a day later with his fishing buddy, Dave Brummel, and the two men worked on the snag with a rebar grappling hook.

"We would go through it downstream, and then run up-river to pry it back and forth and pull it out. It took a couple of tries and about a half an hour, but we got most of it off," he said.

After shaking out a lot of the dead and decayed animals, Haeg took the mess home and was disgusted but not only what was in the nets, but by what the nets themselves turned out to be.

"One was approximately 50 feet long and the other was 30 feet long, and 15 feet deep, both with over 7-inch mesh. These were king salmon gillnets," he said.

Haeg said since these nets aren't legal for fishing in the Kenai River, and Fish and Game hadn't lost any gillnets, his assumption is that someone was using the gear to poach fish, but it's unclear when this dastardly deed took place.

"The only thing I can come up with is that people have been illegally drifting for kings. Both nets had a lead line and no cork line, one of the nets had the old cable lay netting -- last commonly used in the 1970s.

"Two boats could have used it to drift down. It's tough to imagine, especially when you consider what someone could do with that gear. I grew up commercial fishing, I know that even drifting 200 feet in the river with that net and you'd have a pile of fish," he said.

Heag said what bothers him even more than this idea, is the thought of how much harm these nets did since they were either accidentally lost or possibly even intentionally dropped by poachers attempting to avoid being caught.

"Leaving them there to catch stuff year-round and year after year -- that's the worst part," he said.

For anyone that doubts this claim, Haeg said the evidence contained in the tangled mess speaks for itself.

"There were a number of decomposed fish in the net with at least three being very large rainbows. There were also two ducks, one looked to be a harlequin, but the other duck was too badly decomposed for identification," Haeg said in regard to the casualties.

Regarding the other items, he added, "People in the area think the snag has been there for at least eight years, and by the looks of the literally thousands of hooks -- most of which have very nearly rusted away -- it appears like this could be true. The two gillnets had an unbelievable variety of Spin-N-Glos, lures, weights, hooks, swivels, beads, line, along with a landing net -- with the frame corroded very nearly away -- a Coleman rain coat, and partial pair of blue jeans."

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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