Kelly Staebell of Anchorage squinted as the setting sun glistened on the water's surface. The air was calm, the water she was standing chest-deep in was running cool even through neoprene waders, and the only sounds to be heard were the occasional caws and shrieks of gulls behind her, each staking their claim to a salmon head or a bit of fish carcass.
It was hard for Staebell to imagine from the "crowd" of less than a dozen people in the water on Thursday evening that the Kasilof River personal-use dipnet fishery had been open for more than a week. But, the sockeye weren't staging a blitzkrieg as they had the day after the fishery opened on June 25, when more than 15,000 salmon came through.
Still, with roughly 2,000 salmon a day entering the river, fish were being caught.
"It's been slow, but steady," said Staebell's husband, Tim.
He sat idly on shore while Kelly did the work. She held a large, hooped net in the fast-flowing water until, finally, she felt the handle jerk in her hand. A few feet in front of her a fish splashed to the surface as it tried futilely to escape the mesh.
"Tim ... Tim ... I got another one," she said while slowing backing the net out of the water.
For his part, Tim sauntered down the bank, bonked the fish on the head, removed it from the net and then took it away to be filleted.
"She's doing the fishing. I'm doing the cleaning," he said.
Their system was working well. In just a few hours they had already accumulated a half-dozen fish, but Tim said they were in no hurry to fill their permit.
"We'll be sticking around until the Kenai opens," he said, referring to the Kenai River dipnet fishery, which begins on July 10 at 6 a.m.
Robert Begich, area sportfish manger with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna, said he is not surprised the Kasilof dipnet fishery's catches have been a little sagging lately. He attributed it to the current series of extreme tides.
"There's just been so much water on the flood tides," he said.
As a result, fishing has been spotty, with people picking up more fish on the ebb tides, rather than two to three hours into the flood tide as is the more typical pattern.
"We should start seeing it pick up as the big water settles down," Begich said.
In addition to monitoring the tides, personal-use fishermen should also be aware of several regulation changes that are new to the soon to open Kenai River fishery this season.
"There's a lot of changes to be aware of," Begich said.
One of the most notable is that fish may no longer be taken during the Kenai River personal-use dip net fishery from a boat powered by a two-stroke motor, other than one which is direct fuel-injected (DFI). Only boats powered by four-stroke motors, two-stroke DFI, or electric motors are allowed.
There are no horsepower size restrictions on these motors below River Mile 4, which is approximately one mile below the Warren Ames Bridge. Above River Mile 4, there is a 50-horsepower limit on these motors (see map).
For more information regarding boat and motor restrictions, contact the Department of Natural Resources at 907-262-5581 or the Kenai River Center at 907-260-4882.
"We also want to remind people of the area of the shore that is closed to dipnetting," Begich said, referring to the section of the north shore of the Kenai River, from a Fish and Game marker below the terminus of Main Street, to a marker near the Kenai City Dock.
The Kenai City Council also recently approved several changes that dipnetters should be aware of.
"The big change is the fee increase," said Bob Frates, director of Kenai Parks and Recreation.
To park, or to camp, for a 12-hour period, fees have been raised from $10 to $15 dollars on the north and south shores.
"We're getting geared up to accept credit cards. That system should be in place by the opener and should expedite things," Frates added.
"Dock fees will be the same as last year, though," Frates said, referring to a $15 fee to launch a boat and a $10 fee to park.
Dipnetters and beach-goers should also be aware of a new law that prohibits anyone from trespassing in the environmentally sensitive sand dunes. Trespassers will be subject to a stiff fine of $500 for each violation that causes physical damage to the dunes, and a $150 fine amount if the trespassing does not cause physical damage.
For more information on the regulations for participating in either the Kasilof or Kenai River personal-use dip net fisheries, consult pages 16-18 of the 2008 Sport Fishing Regulations Summary for Southcentral Alaska, or call Fish and Game at 907-260-9368.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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