We’ve just returned from a successful dipnetting trip to the Kenai River. We were driving back late at night after having caught all the sockeyes we knew we would use in a year. It was late, we were punchy, stinky, dirty, smokey and covered in sand and driving winding, twisting roads and talking and singing the whole way to keep each other awake. We kept tossing around ideas of what made it such a fruitful trip, what we didn’t need to take next year and what we thought we were missing. I thought the ideas we had on what made it successful were worth sharing, I’ll spare you our renditions of crazy songs no one knows the words to though, you’re welcome.
Here’s a shot of some of the forty two salmon we hauled home. I was going through and making sure their tails were lopped off and getting a hard count on our numbers so I snapped this shot. Then I packed them away with they rest of the salmon in the cooler layered with ice for the trip home.
Our Best Tips to Successfully Dipnet the Kenai River
- before anything else you MUST be an Alaska resident, have a current fishing license and have a current dipnetting permit–all of these should carried ON you as you fish per Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations–put them in a ziploc bag and carry them in the pocket of your waders, it’s NOT worth it to mess around
- bring a BIG cooler filled with ice because chances are you may not find ice available anywhere in Kenai or Soldotna–when I say big I mean BIG like the 250 quart cooler–if you put it anywhere outside your vehicle do yourself, and anyone driving behind you, a favor and face it so the opening is facing behind you–put the opening facing the front of the car and the lid will rip off the cooler the first chance it gets and scare the crap out the people behind you–the road to Kenai is littered with cooler lids no one knew they were missing until it was too late
- you need a dipnet–you can make one, buy one or borrow one but you don’t want to wait till you get to Kenai to find one–the prices for ANYTHING fishing related in Kenai and Soldotna are inflated except for fishing licenses they can’t change the price of those but everything else is outrageously priced, understocked and picked over so have one before you go
- wading gear–you need it whether it’s neoprene or breathable you’re going to need chest waders to get out chest deep in the ocean–you’ll need boots too and if you can swing it a rain coat over the top of everything on the outside–the water will NOT come up in it but will actually force it to suck in around you giving you a few inches of wiggle room in how deep you can actually go–there are the few and hearty who prefer to go out in shorts and t-shirt but brrr most people prefer waders of some sort–again get these before you get to town or you’ll be sorry or at least your wallet will!
- know when to fish–hahhahah but no I’m totally serious, watching the action is the best way to know when to fish, if you see a line of dipnetters in the water and more than 3 fish are caught in 5 minutes chances are the fishing is getting good–we like to fish right as high tide hits and then the following two-three hours after that–one way to tell if the fishing is going to be good is to watch for the locals to show up these will be the folks who roll in, are totally methodical about their gear and their time, these are the people to watch, when they fish, you fish
- land your fish–when you feel a fish hit your net, you’ll know when it does because it jerks hard give your net a good shove and pull and then flip it down and drag it in–I’ve seen many fish not set in the net well and flop right out of the net if the net is lifted high out of the water and brought in–you’ll totally develop your own strategy to keeping a fish it doesn’t matter HOW you do it just do it!
- have a team on shore to bonk fish, cut and gut fish, wash fish and clip their tails (another ADFG regulation-do NOT skip this, we watched a totally legit family fishing last year lose their fish and their licenses because they did not clip the tails, the tails need to be clipped so they’re marked as subsistence and not sold) and ice the fish–you can also have an extra dipnet available for whoever is fishing to trade out nets, they come in with a fish, the beach crew hands them a fresh net to go right back out with, while they wrangle that fish out of the net then the fisherman is right back out to work with no time lost on the beach
- take plenty of water, snacks you can eat one handed and sunscreen you’ll need them all–the worst thing that can happen during good fishing is to suddenly feel too hungry to go on or so thirsty you have to take a break so keep hydrated and fueled up–sunscreen is a MUST the sun and the reflection of the sun will cook your face
- get to know your fishing neighbors, it’s good fishing karma I swear by this! they’ll cheer you on, you’ll cheer them on, they’ll keep your chopping block from floating away, you’ll lend them your their fish whacker when theirs is no where to be found–you can share a fire later and a few fishing stories too
- relax and enjoy the scenery-marvel at the volcanoes directly across from you, Mt Spur and Mt Redoubt are right there as you stand in the water, watch the seals come in to eat, the salmon jumping, airplanes taking off right over your head and the mouth of the river is busy with fishing boats–so much to look at! I really think once we relaxed and started to enjoy ourselves and we quit worrying about getting fish and we we got more fish
- watch out for–fishing boat waves, they will breach your waders every single time, high tides that can swamp your camp or your vehicle, and never fish past 11 pm because that’s when the fishery closes unless of ADFG opens up a 24 hour fishery, which can happen
- kids waders–if you have kids sometimes the best bet for dipnetting success is to put them in chest waders even IF they’re not fishing, they can play in the mud, sand and rocks, gut fish and clean them for you and stay relatively dry–this is important because wet uncomfortable kids will kill all the fun from any fishing trip
- at the end of the day MARK your dipnet permit with the date and the number you caught (then mail it in when the season is over)–they DO come along and check your permits and your fish so it’s best to keep on the up and up