Megan Wohlers, of Kenai, untangles her first Kenai River sockeye salmon of the day and of the year from her dipnet Monday.
Photo by Patrice Kohl
A sockeye salmon thrashed wildly as Julia Ray worked to untangle it from a dipnet nearly as wide as she was tall.
Although Ray and her husband were pleased with the seven fish they caught in the four hours they fished Monday the opening day of Kenai River dipnet fishery Ray said the catch fell short of their expectations.
“This time is slow, I think,” she said. “Last year we’d have 20 to 25 by now ... but this is the first day, so maybe more tomorrow.”
Dipnetters who’s expectations were swelled by a high sockeye return to the Kenai River last year may be sorely disappointed this year if Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasts prove accurate.
Last year 5.5 million sockeye returned to the Kenai River. This year only 1.8 million are expected.
And while Monday marked only the first day open to dipnetting at the mouth of the Kenai, many dipnetters said they were already a little disappointed.
“We’re fine except we haven’t caught any fish,” greeted Lisati Angafa, when approached on the Kenai’s north beach at about 12:30 p.m. Monday.
Angafa, of Anchorage, said he and a companion had been fishing since 6 a.m., but had not yet caught a single fish.
“We got a big cooler, but nothing inside,” Angafa said as he sat on the beach next to the cooler. “We saw a few people pull in some fish, but not us.”
Other dipnetters were catching fish, but slower than they had expected.
“Last year was so much easier,” said Dennis Johnson, who came down from Anchorage to fish with his wife, Carol Odinzoff.
Johnson and Odinzoff spent six hours fishing Monday morning. They walked back to their car with a long white cooler hanging between them carrying the nine fish they caught.
Odinzoff said she and her husband were at the opening day of the Kenai River dipnet fishery last year, and that this year’s returns pale in comparison.
“We got 40 in the same time period,” she said.
But the slow start to this year’s Kenai River dipnet fishery did not discourage Odinzoff, who said she expects the river’s dipnet catches to improve as the season progresses.
“They’ll come. The fish always come,” she said.
But even if no one reported a monster catch, a few dipnetters were still pleasantly surprised with their haul.
“I happened to catch a king for the first time ever,” said Mia Feldmann.
Dipnetters reach their nets into the current as the tide begins to turn early Monday afternoon.
Photo by Patrice Kohl
“Compared to a sockeye it felt like a giant. (It’s) longer than this cooler,” she said, tapping the cooler beneath her legs, which doubled as a beach chair while she and her husband waited for the tide to turn.
Between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. Mia and her husband caught 13 fish, she said.
“So far not so hot,” she said.
But Mia appeared buoyed by her king catch and to be enjoying the fishing trip, despite a slow start.
“We’re just happy to get anything,” she said.
After being at the beach less than 30 minutes, Megan Wohlers, of Kenai, was feeling confident.
“I bet I had my net in the water for five minutes,” said Wohlers, who had just entered the water and exited again almost as quickly with a fish in her net.
“I heard it’s going to be slow this year, but it all depends,” she said as she untangled her first dipnet Kenai sockeye of the day and of the year.
“You can get eight fish in one hour or you can get eight fish in three days, it just depends on whether they are running,” she said.
The Kenai River dipnet fishery is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, although in previous years, including last year, the fishery has been opened by emergency order to 24 hours a day.
Due to what is likely to be a weak sockeye run, however, this year the fishery is unlikely to be opened to 24 hours of fishing, said Lt. Steve Bear, with the Alaska State Troopers Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement.
In addition to keeping an eye on the time, dipnetters who are fishing from boats should be mindful of other boats, particularly the large commercial boats that travel through the area to make deliveries to the canneries, Bear said.
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