Dipnetting Rules of the Road
A massive school of sockeye salmon began flooding the Kenai River early this week, and soon after, seemingly half the cars heading south on the Seward highway had long-handled gill nets attached to their ski racks.
The annual dipnetting frenzy at the mouth of the river has become a cherished ritual among urban Alaskans, and their arrival on the peninsula is as predictable as the salmon they follow. And because of the incredible bounty Alaska has to offer, there's plenty of fish for everybody – especially this year.
But before you pack up the coolers and head for the beach this weekend, it might be a good time to remember a few simple things that will help make everyone's experience safer and more enjoyable.
First, remember that the roads and beaches you'll be using are someone else's full-time home. Even though it seems like all of Alaska lives in Kenai for two weeks each July, it's actually a pretty sleepy little town. Respect for things like speed limits and people's private property will go a long way toward keeping the locals from getting too restless.
Next, don't trash the place. Pick up and pack out your garbage, and chop your fish into small pieces before throwing them to the seagulls. Keeping the beach clean will ensure that when August rolls around, the little kids and dog-walkers who return to the beach won't find it covered in broken bottles.
Don't be in too big of a hurry. Whether you're rushing down to the Kenai after work in a mad dash to fill coolers or trying to get back to work on Monday, speeding and failing to drive cautiously can be a recipe for disaster. There will be far too many people on the roads to make driving any faster helpful, anyway. And no fish is worth losing your life over.
Be courteous of others while fishing, and keep a good-natured attitude. There's simply no reason to end up in a small-town slammer because of a dispute over three feet of fishing space. Everyone will get their fish.
Be careful! The waters of Cook Inlet at the mouth of the river can be extremely dangerous, and people have drowned there. Don't wade too far out. The fish are close to the beach, anyway, so there's really no point in wading up to – and risking – your neck.
Finally, spend some money. Although the personal use fishery is a great way for families to save cash by stocking up the freezer, don't be afraid to part with a little in the area's local stores, bars and restaurants. Folks on the peninsula are much more willing to accept a full-scale invasion of their town if they feel like they're getting something out of it.
Now, what are you waiting for? The fish are in!
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.