Howard Delo

The Kenai River personal use dipnet fishery opens July 10. The Kasilof River PU fisheries have been open, and the areas have been expanded to encourage harvest of a strong sockeye return to that system. The Kenai is much slower, return-wise, and probably won’t significantly improve until later in the month. This Kenai PU fishery is scheduled to close, by regulation, on July 31.

According to the news release announcing this PU fishery, “…because of anticipated low returns, the retention of king salmon in the Kenai River personal use fishery is prohibited.” Any kings caught incidentally to dipping for reds must be immediately released unharmed and without removal from the water. This restriction applies throughout the entire duration of the Kenai PU fishery.

I haven’t gone down on the Peninsula to participate in the Kenai PU fishery in several years because we have found other sources for the salmon we normally use. However, when we were going, I learned to follow the commercial drift net fishing schedule to see when fish might be moving into the river.We learned not to go on the same day as a commercial opening, or, oftentimes, the day after, and to avoid weekends because of the crowds. We followed the escapement counts posted online as well. In a “normal” year, we also found that waiting until around the 20th of July or after often resulted in better numbers of fish available for harvest.

These “rules of thumb” don’t always work either. Returns over the last few years have been quite variable as to both timing and strength. You’ll have to figure your own best dipping times as each year’s returns develop.

I’ve always used a boat for dipnetting on the Kenai as it’s easier, in my opinion, to harvest the fish and transport them from the area.

The first year I went down, I was meeting a friend and his son to dipnet. While waiting for them the first evening, I watched a shore dipper wade out to mid-chest deep and fish his net. When he caught a fish, he would back out of the river, walk about 100-yards to where his cooler and gear were located, club and trim fins on the fish before putting it in his cooler, and walk back out to his chosen dipping location.

I was glad I had my boat because that seemed like a lot of work for one fish. We skipped that evening’s dipping because of rough water conditions, but I had spent some time talking with some local boat-equipped dippers about where to try fishing. They gave me some pointers and the next morning we were the first boat on the river in the area we were fishing.

We made a total of four passes through the area over about two hours and had 65 fish in the bottom of the boat. By the time we left, a couple of other boat-dippers had arrived. We were thrilled at our success as newbies at this fishery. Another year, we spent six hours dipping in the same area for a total of four fish, so success isn’t a guaranteed option!

If you decide to give this fishery a try, make sure to have your sportfishing license and PU permit on your person and a sharp knife or scissors for clipping fins. The Wildlife Troopers will be patrolling and checking for regulation compliance.

If the sockeye runs are strong enough to the Valley, a PU fishery closer to home could occur on Fish Creek. This fishery, when opened, usually turns into a circus because of the large numbers of folks participating and the small public access area open to dipping.

The first year we went, we found a spot nobody else had fished. We easily caught the fish we wanted and went home. The next year, our “secret spot” had been identified and fished out by the time we arrived. In succeeding years, we saw the same situation, so we quite going. I’m not a big fan of playing in the mud!

The new PU fishery on the lower Susitna River has yet to happen and nobody knows how it will go. Access is by boat, exclusively, so numbers of participants will already be limited to those with a boat or who can catch a ride with a boater going that way. Andy Couch is planning to try his hand, so I will be interested to see what he says next week in his column.

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