Dipnet fishers from all over Southcentral Alaska have converged on the central Kenai Peninsula to harvest the bounty of the sea. And the fish are cooperating.
Kenai River-bound red salmon hit the river hard Wednesday evening and have slowed little since. Dipnetters on the north shore Wednesday night reported high catch rates as the tide was ebbing and during low slack water.
"The best time to fish is when the tide goes out," said Larry Mayac of Anchorage, who was dipnetting with his father, George.
Mayac caught 15 fish in less than an hour, packing up just before the tide turned. As soon as the tide started coming in, the fishing fell off almost immediately, another fisher said.
There are several theories why fishing is better on an outgoing tide. One fisher speculated that incoming salmon in the mouth of the river are slowed down enough by the tidal current that fish behind them catch up, causing a traffic jam of sorts.
Fish and Game biologist Mike Bethe said there are as many theories as there are dipnetters, but the explanation could be that slack water, be it high or low, disorients the salmon because they have no clues as to what direction to swim.
There also are as many different types of dipnets are there are dipnetters. Many custom design their own or have them fabricated for them.
While the Mayacs used a 16-foot long aluminum pole supported by foam wrap, another dipnetter, Kevin Carey of Anchorage, used a short plastic one.
Carey said he got 16 reds in three hours.
"That's my best ever catch in three hours," he said.
Carey said his allowable family quota is 65 fish, but said he doesn't want any more than 30.
"Last year I got 30, but we couldn't use them all," he said. "So I brought some to the zoo for them to feed to the bears."
Carey's fish are destined to be smoked, canned and frozen, except for one, which was headed straight for the barbecue.
Another couple from Anchorage, Chae Chun and Sun Cha Yoo, were participating in the dipnet fishery for the first time this year.
"It's going good," Chae Chun Yoo said as his wife loaded his backpack with headed and gutted fish.
The Yoos caught nearly 20 fish in just a few hours.
Another fisher, Byron Slough of Palmer, said Wednesday night that dipnetting during the day -- when the tide was coming in or high -- was not very good.
"But it's great tonight," he said, as he prepared his four 5-gallon buckets of salmon for transport back to the parking area.
Slough credits his success to his net, custom made by Metal Magic of Nikiski.
"I've got to give this guy credit," Slough said. "I came down one summer with a copper (tubing) net and didn't do diddly. But the first time I used this one, I caught my limit in three-hours."
The custom net was of rolled aluminum and uses green nylon gillnet for its web.
"I swear the fish see that black mesh," he said.
Slough said he also had success on the outgoing tide.
"I had always been under the illusion that you always caught the fish on the high tide, but I've done better on the low tide and as it went slack," he said.
Kenai resident Pat Peters, who lives on the bluff in Old Town, said she could see reds jumping from her house.
"I thought I better come down here and put a net in the water," Peters said. "It's been great fishing."
Peters said the fish coming out of the water were huge and had great color. Other dipnetters were hauling in some very large reds, some around 10 pounds.
"It looks like we do have a move of fish in," Bethe said of the volume being caught.
He said he saw 65 dipnetters at the mouth of the Kasilof River Thursday morning and another 45 at the mouth of the Kenai.
The Kenai fishery, which straddles the mouth of the river to the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge for both shore-bound and boat fishers (with a few exceptions -- See related story, page A-1), has caused little problems for the city of Kenai.
Larry Semmens, the city's finance director who is acting city manager while Rick Ross is on vacation, said everything is going well at the designated parking lot the city created last year. Parking fees are $5, and Semmens said about 60 vehicles have taken advantage of that each day since the fishery opened on Monday.
He said he expected a rush over the first weekend of the season.
"The parking lot will very likely be full," he said.
He also reported about 35 boat launches, at $10 each, at the city dock for dipnetters.
Semmens said there have not been any problems relating to the city deciding for the second year in a row not to install Dumpsters or Porta-potties on the south side of the river.
"If we put barrels or Dumpsters there and can't get to them to empty them, then people just think, 'Well, the city will just take care of it,' and pile their garbage there," Semmens said. "(Without the Dumpsters) people realize that if they bring garbage in, they bring it back out. And I'd appreciate it if they continued to do that."
The fishery on the Kenai runs 24-hours a day until midnight on July 31 and until Aug. 10 on the Kasilof.
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