Monday, August 09, 2010

Adventure #3: Going With the Flow

The second most fun thing I did in Alaska (the first being mountain biking) was to join our friends on a jaunt down to the Kenai River so they could restock their pantry and freezer with salmon. Dip netting is allowed only to Alaska residents so we could only watch.

The Kenai River here is large and opens up to the Cook Inlet. Across the way two volcanoes are visible with the boring names of Redoubt (a Russian word meaning 'fortified place') and Double. The rules and regs of dipnetting are quite strict. Fishing licenses are required of course. No selling for profit and one can only feed your immediate family. The Kenai dip netting was open this year from July 10-31 with the head of household allowed 25 salmon and 10 more for each other member of the family. So the Hamler's could have taken home 55 salmon and 10 flounder.

This is the scene that we came upon when we dragged all our camping gear and the Hamler's fishing gear to the beach along the riverbank. It was relatively uncrowded as this was mid-week. You just have to get over the slaughter aspect of this and go with the flow. Fish heads litter the beach, with the eyes plucked out by sea gulls. Luckily it's cool here or peeee-uuuuuu it would stink! Now remember, this is not sport fishing. It is subsistence fishing, meant for filling the pantry to get one through the long winter.

As an observer, I found it interesting how folks get their gear to the beach. By wheel barrow...

and garden cart wagon with big tires. Most people used kid toboggan type sleds and pulled the coolers on them over the sand.

This is the hoop net. It could also be used for a soccer goal!

Last year nearly 30,000 permits were issued and almost 340,000 sockeye salmon were pulled from the Kenai river. Sonar devices count the fish and in 2009 741, 721 fish passed by in July alone. Here's how it works. The best time to fish is right after the outgoing high tide. The timing was perfect for us as it was at 6:00p.m. and 6:00 a.m. The net is large, but by law, no larger than 5' across, attached to a metal ring with a 12' long pole and a handle on the end. The fisher person (Bruce did the first tide) pushes the net into the river at least half way submerged and waits oh, about a minute, before a big salmon swims up river into the net. Then he slowly walks up to the beach where...

Tami bonks the fish with a 'bonker' (stick, rock or pipe) on the head and stuns/kills it.

Proud bonker

The head is then cut off, the underside sliced open, the guts removed and thrown to the gulls, the top fin cut off. The tail fins have to be cut at an angle to prove that it was caught by dip netting.

Into the cooler of ice they go and when this one is full, the contents of the smaller cooler are moved to the massive cooler waiting up the hill in Big Blue. Bruce netted 18 red salmon in a just few hours. Many weighed about 12 pounds. The hours that one is allowed to fish is from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. but we heard that the authorities opened it up to 24 hours due to high migration.

Big Blue, all ready for the dipnetting adventure.

Saw lots of this action.

Commercial fisheries are located just up river a ways and we saw plenty of boats coming and going with the days' catch.

After a not-too-good-night's-sleep (due to a bad parenting episode in the tent next to us) Tami took the morning tide and caught 10 more salmon and a very large flounder in just 2 hours. They had their personal limit of 30 salmon and one flounder as that was quite enough because they would have to spend the next few days smoking it in Big Chief smokers with alder wood, then canning it. We were served their last jar of smoked salmon just days before so it was definitely time to go fishing.

Since I couldn't help in any way, except for cheering them on, I hooped...

and hooped...

and hooped.

These were our neighbors on the other side (NOT the bad parents!) Five women originally from Cambodia, were excellent dip netters, having been raised by fishermen. They were saving fish heads in a drywall bucket to take back to their 83-year old mother as she made fish head stew. They thought that I wanted to take their picture because they looked like native Alaskans, but I really thought they were remarkable because they were all women, enjoying time camping, dipnetting and carrying on a fishing tradition.

As the sun slowly traveled towards the horizon and a twilight settled on the sand, the dip netters were seen in silhouette and another day was enjoyed on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska.

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