Using Kenai dock during fish frenzy could qualify as extreme sport

Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2004

Whew. Dipnet season that three-week fish fest where anyone with a fishing license, a permit and who is more than 5-feet, 5-inches tall is allowed to go out and scoop up fish is over.

I threw in the height requirement because I have found if I have to dipnet from the bank I need to be tall enough to get within range of the fish.

Being on the short side and overweight I tend to float, making dipnetting from shore close to impossible.

I am, however, lucky enough to have access to a boat.

Maybe lucky isn't the word I am looking for, because having a boat means we had to launch from the Kenai Public Dock.

If you have never been a part of the fish-induced frenzy, then you've missed a mad house.

There is limited parking, hundreds of people, no traffic control in the parking lot or at the ramps, and a dock too small to handle the amount of traffic it receives. There also are only two ramps that are used for both loading and unloading. With no one there to help orchestrate the comings and goings, the dock takes on the appearance of both the Wild West and a circus.

Before you even think of using the dock, you must first decide when you want to be on the water and when you absolutely have to be home so you can get enough sleep to function at work.

Add four hours of waiting in line two hours to get in the water and two hours to get out or else you will miss the tide entirely.

We arrived at 6:30 p.m. and were 32nd in line this bit of information came from the young woman who was walking down the line of trucks, taking money and giving an estimated time of launching. We were parked just inside the turnoff with six trucks behind us on the side of the highway.

Since there was nothing that could be done about the waiting time, we used the time to eat dinner. Others chose to honk their horns and swear. I'm not sure what that accomplished, but they seemed to feel better.

At 8:30 p.m., we were able to launch.

If you have spent any time around the water, you know the loading and unloading of a boat is a stressful event even for the most seasoned veterans. Add inexperienced boaters and those unfamiliar with the dock into the mix and you have the makings of a riot.

People were crashing into the dock; others were having to back down the steep ramp four or five times before getting their boats in the water.

On this night, there were two teenage girls having a mud fight by the ramps, which further slowed the crawling traffic. When they washed off on the dock, everything came to a halt.

We managed to launch OK, but right away we were dodging boats coming in to drop off a person who would have to wait in line while the rest of the party bobbed around waiting their turn to get out of the water. At this point, most people were being helpful and taking the jostling in good nature.

It was a perfect summer evening warm, with a slight breeze to help keep the bugs off and the smell of fish down.

Intermingled with the screech of the gulls were the cries of someone who had just had run out of beer. I kid you not.

We had decided to fish the outgoing tide and moved further down the mouth of the river when the water pump went out.

I wasn't concerned because the river was crawling with potential help. I became concerned when the person I was with (he wishes to remain nameless) became intent on paddling the boat up the river and against the tide.

Since I prefer to take control of my own destiny I decided to wave someone over to help. To which, he-who-shall-not-be-named sweetly said, "You better be waving hello because I will bring this boat back under my own power or die trying before someone else tows me in."

It had to be a guy thing. Not being a guy I didn't get it, but we got back to the dock under our own steam.

We arrived back at 9:30 p.m. With the boat inoperable, we had to tie up at the dock. He-who-shall-not-be-named went to get the truck, and I stayed behind to keep watch on the gear.

The tide was still going out, making the usable space at the dock even less. As the water lowers, backing down to launch or load becomes even more difficult. The good cheer that had prevailed an hour before was fast disappearing. In the two hours it took to get out of the water, I witnessed the following:

A boat operator so drunk that he missed trailering his boat three times. His speech was so impaired that the obscenities he was screaming ran together and were more harmless than offensive.

A couple that spent 15 minutes fighting on the dock while their truck sat ready to load. One person got so fed up he went over and loaded it for them so they would go away.

A boater who wanted the space of a guy who had fallen asleep in his boat. When cussing didn't wake the sleeper, the other threw a beer can at him. Since it didn't land with a thud I knew it was empty, but that is when I decided it was no longer safe to be down there.

By 11:30 p.m. when it was our turn to load up, the boat jostling had become just short of ramming. Forget combat fishing, it had become combat boating for some.

I am not sure what the city of Kenai plans to do with the money it collected, but I have a few suggestions:

Build another road. It would help with the congestion and keep people from having to park on the highway.

Expand the parking area and monitor it. It is so crazy that I chose to pay $10 to drop my son off instead of letting him walk through the parking lot so he could go boating with his dad. I personally think it was crazy I had to pay $10 to do a drop off, but that is another matter.

No offense to the polite young adults whom the city hired to take money, but the city should hire people who have an air of authority and the skill to diffuse the tempers and help those who have trouble on the ramps. And more of them should be hired. Someone needs to be down on the dock at all times.

Of course, people should be able to control their own behavior; while 75 percent of the people did, it is the other 25 percent I worry about.

It is just a matter of time before the pushing, yelling and empty beer can throwing turns really ugly.

Nan Misner works for the Peninsula Clarion.

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