Time to get those dipnets wet.
The personal-use dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof River has been open since June 25, while the larger Kenai fishery will open Wednesday.
If the early indications are correct, the fishing -- and catching -- could be excellent. Those who have been trying their luck on the Kasilof say this year is shaping up to be a good one.
"It's been pretty good fishing," said August Asay of Anchorage.
Asay spoke Saturday from the banks of the Kasilof while taking a break from fishing. He said he and his four children had fished for three hours and had dipped roughly 30 sockeye from the mouth of the river. Asay said he chose to fish the Kasilof to avoid the crowded Kenai fishery.
"This is our summer vacation. We come every year. It's a real family-oriented fishery," he said.
The Kasilof, with its smaller run of fish and more difficult access, generally attracts far fewer fishers than Kenai. However, for those looking for a more relaxed environment, the Kasilof can be preferable.
Only around 50 people fished the south shore of the river Saturday afternoon, and tension was low. Families camped on the beach, letting children run and play. This contrasts sharply with the frenzy of the Kenai dipnet fishery, which attracts hundreds of personal-use fishers daily during the height of the sockeye run. Asay said he far prefers the relaxed atmosphere of the Kasilof fishery.
"The Kenai is too crowded. It's not too good for kids," he said.
Crowded conditions are expected again this year for the Wednesday opening. The city of Kenai has tried recently to address the issue, instituting new parking fees on the south side of the mouth of the river. Previously, only vehicles on the north side of the mouth were charged for parking. However, because of the cost involved with maintaining and policing the area, a fee area was established, according to Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates.
Frates said in order to maintain restroom facilities and provide other services on the south side of the river, a $5 parking fee area was established.
"People seem to recognize that if it takes a fee to get services, they're willing to pay it," he said, noting parking on the north side of the river already costs $5.
Frates said the biggest problem he sees with the dipnet fishery each year is the trash users leave behind.
"Litter is a big issue. The cleanliness of the beach is our No. 1 problem," Frates said.
However, in spite of the big crowds, Frates said Kenai is looking forward to a successful opening.
"We are getting every indication that the fish are there. It should be a good year," he said.
The personal-use dipnet fishery will run through July 31. Fishing only is permitted in designated areas, and only Alaska residents with a valid sportfishing license and a personal-use permit are eligible. However, participants demonstrated Saturday that you need not be a resident to enjoy the spectacle of the fishery.
Andy Rowland and Elder Branham are missionaries for the Mormon church in Anchorage. They traveled to the Kasilof Saturday to watch and learn about the unique Alaska way of harvesting fish.
Though ineligible to get a net wet, Rowland, of Idaho, and Branham, of South Carolina, kept busy, moving fish up the beach and helping to subdue the thrashing fish.
"I'm beating the fish when they come out of the water," Rowland said, deftly knocking a fish on the head with a small club.
"It's a pretty effective method of fishing," Branham chimed in.
Both said they were impressed by watching the dipnet fishers go about their business.
"It's fun. I've never seen so many fish," Rowland said.
Branham said he liked the atmosphere of the fishery best.
"It's a good family outing. I'm glad we're here."
Locals who decide to brave the crowds at the Kenai, or elect for the more subdued Kasilof, can expect to have good results, if early numbers are any indication.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, this year's sockeye run is shaping up to be quite strong.
"If things continue the way they are on the Kenai, dipping should be pretty good," said Mark Gamblin, area management biologist with the department.
Gamblin said more than 50,000 fish were recorded passing the department's Kenai River sonar counter on Monday, an unusually high number for this time of year.
Gamblin said what the department doesn't know is if the run is larger or simply returning earlier than normal.
"That's what we don't know," he said.
However, Gamblin said fishers should take advantage while there are definitely fish moving into the Kenai.
"If you want to get them, you might as well go get them now," he said.
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