We went dipnetting for red salmon on the Kasilof River again this year. This is our third year we've fished the Kasilof. Before that, we did our dipnetting on the Kenai River, but we've decided the Kasilof is more our speed. Kasilof salmon are smaller than they are in the Kenai River, but the beach scene and the other dipnetters on the Kasilof are more laid-back and relaxed. It's more of a family affair, with lots of kids and dogs, campers and campfires. I look forward to this fishing trip all year long, eager to hang out on the beach with family and friends, all of us hoping to fill our freezers with fish for the year, fingers crossed for good weather, good tides, and full nets.
Here's a family taking a break for lunch on the first day:
It was a little risky but this year we went a couple of weeks earlier than we usually do, because of work schedules, and we crossed our fingers that we weren't arriving at the river mouth sooner than the fish did. We usually fish from the north shore but this year we decided to give the south shore a try and we liked it alot better. The north shore is covered in slippery mud which is a challenge when you're wearing chestwaders and carrying a huge net and, hopefully, lots of salmon. The south shore is made up of sand and gravel -- so much easier to get around.
We survey the scene on our first day. Lots of dipnetters in a row in the water:
We stayed at the Diamond M Ranch again, our third year in a row. We got our usual corner of the cow pasture -- separate from all the other campers so that our dogs aren't constantly harassing the neighbors.
Here's Sadie in the door of the camper, wondering who she can bark at:
There were no cows but lots of alpacas meandering about. I wasn't sure if this one wanted to be my friend or if I was about to be bitten. I bravely stood my ground and snapped some photos:
Our camper is set up way over there in the distance:
We fed stalks of fireweed to this alpaca. He was penned up and not allowed to roam freely with the others. Must be a mischief-maker:
And there were pigs:
And still more alpacas. This one gave me an appraising and knowing look:
The pasture was pretty empty when we arrived. Just a few rvs dotting the field here and there. The crowds would arrive a week or two later. I'm not gonna lie. It made me a bit apprehensive to see that no one else was there yet. Who wants to take a few days off from work, pack up a camper, drive for hours, stand in the water holding a net for days on end, and not catch anything? If I were a nail-biter, I would have been nibbling.
We set up shop in the cow pasture and I'd like to say we expeditiously pulled on our fishing waders and grabbed our nets and headed straight for the river but...
We took it easy in the sun for a bit and sipped some champagne.
We did eventually go fishing. Here's my view, waist-deep in the water. Beautiful weather. A string of volcanoes on the horizon.
We fished for maybe 5 or 6 hours that day and caught 10 or so salmon between the three of us. Not too shabby.
Our spoiled rotten dogs feasted on fresh-grilled salmon and homemade yogurt for breakfast the next day:
The second day was a total bust. I think we caught one salmon between the three of us. I did more people watching from a beach chair that day than I did fishing. The people parked next to us were an 'interesting' extended family from the Kenai. A skinny-as-a-rail dad and a very large mom who apparently couldn't find waders in her size so she would occasionally wade into the water up to her chest without waders, hold the dipnet for 20 minutes or so, then stagger out of the water soaking wet and sit in a beach chair wrapped in a blanket for a few hours. Things got very loud when Grandma showed up. She screamed and hollered at the kids for the entire afternoon, even though the kids weren't doing anything wrong and were, in fact, playing very nicely on the beach for hours on end. No one was catching any fish but you can always count on good people-watching on the river whilst dipnetting.
My net in the water the first day -- you know the fishing is slow if I have the time to take my camera out of its ziploc bag and snap some photos:
I filleted up our one fish and we headed back to camp.
We were a bit disheartened. The next day we hung around the camper the whole morning, sipping coffee, chatting, eating breakfast. My mom and I drove to both Kenai and Soldotna and did a little grocery and beer shopping. We visited some thrift stores. Picked up some pizzas from Pizza Boys -- their gluten free crust pizzas are tasty. After polishing off the pizzas and some beers we decided we'd better get down to business and do some fishing, even if our hearts weren't really in it.
But! As soon as we found a spot to park on the beach, we noticed a change in our fellow dipnetters. Everyone was darting this way and that, busy as bees, and for the first time we spotted what we'd come for -- bright, silvery fish flopping in nets all up and down the waterline. We'd finally struck upon a lucky tide! We pulled on our waders and grabbed our nets and dashed into the water and starting pulling in one salmon after another. No one seemed to mind when rain started pouring down on us and the wind kicked up. Who cares what the weather's like when you're into the fish? We'd fill a bucket and set it aside. Then we filled another bucket and set it aside. When a large styrofoam ice chest was almost full I decided it was time to stop fishing and start sharpening my knife and get some salmon filleted.
I probably filleted 40 salmon that evening, fighting off hungry seagulls that circled me in a menacing way. One bold gull dive-bombed into my huge ziploc bag full of salmon eggs, snatch an entire skein of eggs and swallowed them all in one gulp. I don't remember encountering such feisty gulls in years past.
I had a good time practicing my filleting skills though and managed to only nick my thumb once with a knife. I was grateful we ate all that pizza before fishing. There was no time to stop and snack.
We were so relieved to catch our limit -- 35 fish for each of our households, a total of 70 salmon. It was the most feverishly-paced fishing I've done on either the Kenai or the Kasilof. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end -- around 11 pm, as the sun was hanging low in the sky, commercial boats strung themselves along the mouth of the river, put out their nets, and began catching all the salmon before the fish could make their way into anyone's dipnets. We'd accidentally and unwittingly timed our fishing trip that day perfectly. We arrived on the shore about 20 minutes after everyone started catching fish, according to a guy we talked to, and we caught our limit just as the commercial nets went up. And all of our fish were filleted on the beach, thanks to my dad's help towards the end, so we didn't have to deal with the drudgery of going back to camp and cleaning our fish at a dimly-lit, slimy, scale-y, and smelly fish-cleaning table.
We ate finger foods for dinner that night in the camper but the next morning we grilled steaks over the campfire and cooked up some scrambled eggs. Dipnetting is hard work, our muscles were sore, and we'd earned a big breakfast:
We were able to pack up and go home a couple of days earlier than planned. But before leaving the ranch, we took a walk down to the Kenai River. It's a beautiful walk:
Homesteader cabin tucked in the woods:
Looking across the Kenai River:
We didn't stay on the bank of the river long because we found a freshly-killed salmon with a bite or two taken from it, and we spotted a bear paw print in the muddy bank. There was also a tiny moose print inside the bear's print:
Photos taken here and there on the ranch:
Back at home we weighed our catch. 123 pounds! Red salmon are currently selling for $8 per pound at Costco now, so having this much fish makes a person feel pretty fortunate. Here are just some of the fillets, about to be vacuum-packed and put in the freezer.
We kept some out to eat right away, of course.
Here are all the eggs:
More on those later...
Dipnetting is alot of work but I love it. I'm already looking forward to next year.