Dipnetting 2018

Andrew, Alec and Mark on fishing boat

Took Andrew with me to Anchorage to go dipnetting at Keith and Jane’s this year. Todd has moved out of state, but luckily his son Alec took his place. Andrew and I arrived into Anchorage late in the evening. My niece  Melissa picked us up at the airport and took us to Sara’s family home, where we borrowed the spare Subaru that’s there for this purpose. We drove to the family cabin at Cooper Landing and arrived about 1100 pm. We slept there til 4 am, and high tailed it to Kenai.  As we entered Sterling, a volunteer from the chamber of commerce had out a big 4 x 8 sheet of plywood with “F?!$ You Dip Netters” hand written in spray paint leaning against the struts of a highway sign.

Not far after another sign in the same handwriting read “No Fish!”. Andrew asked what that was about, and I said “Welcome to the Cook Inlet Fish Wars” my friend. We arrived right on time at Keith and Jane’s at 5:30am. That gave us time to motor down to the dipnet area and be ready to put our nets in the water at 6am, when fishing opened. We passed under the bridge where the fishing line started, and continued toward the mouth of the river. We saw some people getting a head start with their nets already in the water along the way. It was a blaze red-orange sunrise, and plenty of boats, but not as many as in earlier years it seemed. The run was late and just starting, and in the past 4 days the escapement up the river had jumped from 11,000 fish per day to 33,000 fish per day, so it looked like we would be in for some decent fishing.

We got 4 or 5 fish our first drift. Not bad. Andrew manned one net. I was on the other. Alec got fish out of the net when we brought them aboard, conked the fish to stun it, broke a gill to bleed it, and snipped the lobes of the tail as required by regulation. Then the fish went into the fish hold. Fishing was slow but steady. About noon, after a few fishless drifts, we called it a day and headed back to Keith and Jane’s.

Just before the bridge, we pulled the fish out to count them and record the numbers on our permits so we’d be legal once we passed the bridge. Then on to Keith’s dock to clean the fish. Keith and Alec worked on their fish together. Keith is an expert filleter and did both his and Alec’s fish. Jane helped to put the fish in bags then went up to the processing shack to vacuum pack them.

I like to take fish back whole as I think they travel better. I had my pressure bleeding gizmos, and was pleased to see them work well on the fish, even though they’d been in the hold for several hours. Andrew cut off the heads, I bled and dressed them, then Andrew rinsed them thoroughly. We put ice in the bottom of our cooler, then put in fish and more ice at the end and worked the ice down between the fish so they’d all cool. The fish looked fantastic. I steaked one smaller sockeye, seasoned it on a plate, and put the fish in Jane’s fridge for dinner. Andrew and I both took a hard nap while Keith caught up on gassing up his tanks for the week and other chores.

I got up pretty groggy, and got to cooking dinner. Salmon on the grill, a salad, some beans and corn on the cob. The fish was excellent, of course. We were all bushed after the simple meal and went to bed right after dinner.

We were up by 5 am the next morning to fish a few hours before we had to head back to Anchorage to catch our flight to Juneau. We were down river at 5 minutes to 6 am. A light rain was falling, which I always like for taking care of fish. One guy already was fishing. Pretty gutsy. When we got to the lower river I couldn’t believe it. We were the first boat through and hardly any others behind us. Andrew and I each got a fish. Twice. Then I got a third. Easy livin’. Boats arrived one by one but not enmasse as on the Sundays we’d fished in years past. Wow. Alec had gone back to Anchorage to work, so it was just the three of us. By 9:30 or 10 we had a good catch and after a couple fishless drifts we headed back to clean fish. By now Andrew and I were a well-oiled machine and knocked out our catch in no time, while Keith filleted on his side and Jane filled the vac pack bags. We cleaned up the tables and the boat and then got ready to leave. We chatted with Jane and Keith in their vac packing shack, and I was glad to see they had several maps I’d sent of the Kenai River and Alaska on their walls, which they said people vac packing loved to explore while waiting for the machine to do it’s work.

I’d found a pressure cooker – the same model as the one I’ve had for some 30 years – on Kenai Peninsula Craigslist, and so headed over there to buy it. Having 2 pressure cookers will make canning a lot more efficient. The guy selling it was moving to Wisconsin and said he didn’t need it any more. I jokingly asked if the winters weren’t cold enough here, and he said yes, but Wisconsin only has THREE months of winter.

We stopped to buy ice for our fish again. The large and smaller cooler we had just held our catch. The trip back to Anchorage was in light traffic and enjoyable. Andrew enjoyed the sights. When we got to Anchorage, we needed to get gel packs to replace the ice to keep our fish cool for shipping with us back to Juneau. Finding already frozen gel packs this time of year at stores I could see was going to be a problem. So, I tried something new. I bought 4 lb bags of frozen strawberries and banana combos that are for making smoothies. Genius. One bag went into each insulation bag that held the fish, and the bag in the box. These worked great, and now I have smoothie fruit till the fall. Andrew loaded the fish boxes at approximately 40+ lbs of fish each to stay under the 50 lb limit for baggage after adding in the box and frozen fruit weights. We packed up 5 boxes of fish, plus one box with my knives and the pressure cooker, etc.,  and headed over to check in at the airport early in case there were any issues.

I sent Andrew in with three boxes and waited with the car. He called to say one of the boxes was overweight, but the Alaska Airlines ticket agent helped him move fish from one box to another. Don’t think you’ll get that kind of service at Dulles! He soon came out with the cart, and we traded places. My boxes all weighed in okay. We headed back to the house and cleaned up the car.

Aimee came over and took us from the house to the airport. Andrew thought she and her sister were the same woman. Pretty funny. As we walked to our gate, here comes Governor Walker walking past us. By himself. He was on his way to the McDonalds line, where he chatted with the others in line. No entourage. Where do you see that? When I got on board our flight, I had one row of emergency row seats to myself. Governor Walker had the row behind me. I was still in the same clothes that I’d flown to Anchorage in on Saturday, so glad he didn’t have to sit next to me. When we landed, I offered him some fish as I told him I guessed he and his wife didn’t get much fishing in these days, being in charge of the biggest state in the Union and all. He politely declined, then asked me where we went fishing, where I worked, and just idle chatter that people make as they line up to leave the plane.

Sara picked us up and when we got home, we got to butchering. I cut, Andrew bagged and Sara vac packed. We got the 200 lbs of salmon packaged in an hour or so, and I took Andrew home, along with fish from 3 of the 5 boxes. I told him he needed more fish than us, as Samuel may finish the fish by September.