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Story Last modified at 1:27 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dipnetters find a fish bonanza on the Kenai

By LOGAN TUTTLE
Peninsula Clarion

photo:News

Sean Boulay, left and James Bridgeman fillet their catch of sockeye salmon on Monday, July 18 at the mouth of the Kenai River. The two Anchorage men said their plan is to smoke the fish and send it as Christmas presents. The annual fishery has attracted thousands of Alaskans eager to get their share of a massive return of fish that began hitting the river on July 17. That day, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said a record 230,000 reds passed the Kenai River's sonar counter. (Bottom) Signs advertise dip nets for sale at a business on the Sterling Highway near Soldotna recently. The long-handled gill nets are used to scoop sockeye salmon from the river in the personal use fishery, which is only open to Alaska residents with a valid personal use permit. Each head of household is allowed 25 salmon, plus 10 each for each additional family member.
Photo by Logan Tuttle

Like mom always said, "Get 'em while they're hot."

That seems to be the situation on the Kenai Peninsula lately as sockeye salmon make their run to the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. Roads were jammed with vehicles and boats as dipnetters were anxious to get to the water.

"This is the most people we've ever seen down here for the dipnet fishery," Kenai Police Department Chief Gus Sandahl said. "I never saw as many people as I did this weekend."

From the slow opening weekend, the tides have seemed to turn. This weekend the fish were hot, and there seems to be no indication of the run slowing down.

"It was excellent starting Saturday afternoon-evening through yesterday (July 17) and today (July 18)," Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist Robert Begich said. "The sportfishing's excellent in the lower 30-plus miles of the river. It looks like today's (Monday) number will be a good number as well."

The number Begich is referring to is the escapement number Fish and Game uses to track the fish during their runs. The number for late-run sockeye Sunday was more than 230,000, which broke the previous record of 217,000 set in 1987.

Dipnetters were still out in force Monday despite high winds and waves.

Sean Boulay was dipnetting in the mouth of the Kenai River on Sunday, and said he only got four fish. Monday, he said he was able to grab 16 fish between him and his friend James Bridgeman. Both Boulay and Bridgeman are from Anchorage.

"Going from four fish in one tide to 16, that's a pretty good improvement," Boulay, 30, said.

Bridgeman, 31, said they try to use as much of the fish as possible.

"We're getting our Christmas presents right now," Bridgeman said. "We send out smoked salmon, it's a good way to save money."

The men didn't seem to mind the long drive to the Peninsula. Like many in Southcentral, Boulay is used to traveling long distances. He works in Big Lake, where he manages a group assisted living home.

"I live in Anchorage, work in Big Lake, and play in Kenai," he said.

Logan Tuttle can be reached at logan.tuttle@peninsulaclarion.com



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.