At 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, the city of Kenai removed its Port-A-Potties from the south bank at the mouth of the Kenai River. Dipnet-ting season was over for another year.
The season actually ended at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning, when Alaska's most popular personal-use salmon fishery was scheduled to close for the year. But the removal of the city's portable bathroom facilities was the real indicator that the fish-mad hordes had left the water for another season.
According to Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates, city crews spent much of the first day A.D. (after dipnetting) removing the toilets and combing the beach for garbage left over by the thousands of Alaskans who flocked here between July 10 and 31.
"We're just in the mode of picking up trash and debris," Frates said Friday.
Although crews hauled countless bags of trash off the beach earlier in the day, numerous pieces remained stranded at the high-tide mark Friday. Along the most densely-fished stretch of beach nearest the mouth of the Kenai, the list of evidence from the fishing frenzy read almost like a shopping list for future dipnetters: A Converse basketball shoe, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, 10,000 salmon heads, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, two dead seagulls, duct tape, plastic bags, a dead flounder, driftwood, plastic plates, seashells, yarn, an apple core, a water park wristband, dog poop, fishing lures, charcoal, a hat and shirt and plenty of sunflower seeds.
According to Frates, the city has been responsible for getting the beach back into shape after the fishing ends. Between the salmon carcasses and human waste, Frates said the city has its work cut out for it.
"The aftermath is quite extensive," he said.
Despite the diverse nature of the remaining trash, almost all was confined to the water line, indicating city crews had scoured the dunes and sand above pretty thoroughly. One thing they wouldn't touch, however, were the salmon heads. Frates said the city is considering using a tractor and large rake to remove the eyeless, rotting heads if the tide doesn't do it fast enough.
Other than the trash and fish heads, Frates said this year's dipnetting season, during which fishers saw a larger-than-expected sockeye run, went about as well as could be expected.
"For the most part, things went pretty smooth for us," he said, noting the biggest problem the city faced was a couple overflowing Dumpsters.
Still, he mentioned that this season wasn't without its moments. Pack that many fish and humans together along a couple miles of beach and things are bound to get a bit ripe.
"It was an interesting three weeks," Frates said simply.
One person who witnessed the fishery firsthand was Anchorage retiree Bobby Little. Little spent Friday combing the beach with his metal detector. He said he got his fish earlier in the season and had returned to see if he could find some treasure amid the city's trash.
"After everybody's gone, I like to come down here and use my metal detector, see what I can find," he said.
Little said he found this year's fishing to be a pleasant experience. The people were generally cordial, he said, and with the fishing as good as it was, most people seemed to enjoy themselves.
"Everybody gets a little edgy now and then, but most of the people were pretty good," Little said.
Now that he's got a freezer full of fish, Little said he enjoys being able to experience the more tranquil side of the Kenai beach.
"This is one of the best places in the world to come," he said.
Although it may have hurt his treasure hunting, Little said he was impressed by the amount of work the city had done in a short time to clean up the debris.
"I think it looks pretty good," he said.
Another beach comber, Kenai's Floyd Holman, walked the beach with his dog, Clem. Clem seemed to enjoy the wealth of fish remains, while Floyd said he was just walking to see what he could find. In a short amount of time, he had picked up someone's electric car starter.
"Somebody might wonder where this is," he said.
As for the smell, Holman said the fishy odor didn't bother him in the slightest.
"Luckily, my nose ain't too good," he joked.
He said he was amazed at the variety of things people end up leaving behind when they leave the beach. He said he thinks the dipnet fishery gives a pretty good picture of what summertime is like on the peninsula.
"That's Alaska right there," he said.
Little echoed Holman's sentiments. He said he believes the Kenai beach provides the perfect setting for both fast-paced dipnetting and the more relaxed beach combing made possible by the dipnetters' departure.
"We just have fun here," he said. "That's what we do."
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