For the last couple of weeks, Andy Couch, in his fisheries column, has been discussing how the hooligan have been showing up in the Susitna River drainage and who was telling him. He also mentioned who had some charters to take folks where they could dipnet some of these tasty little fish.
My wife and I started hooligan dipnetting along the Susitna probably fifteen or sixteen years ago, oftentimes with hit-or-miss success. A few of those years, we didn’t dipnet at all because of health and/or mobility issues, so our “track record” isn’t necessarily consistent.
We began discussing trying to catch some hooligan a month or two ago, hoping we might hit the run timing in the Susitna at least well enough to catch some fish. As a result, I paid close attention to Andy’s comments and spoke with him in person at our last Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting about where the fish seemed to be at the time.
Andy commented that the hooligan were plentiful around the mouth of the Yentna River when we spoke last week, so I knew the fish were working their way north up the river. I was guesstimating when they might be passing near the Willow area and further up the Kashwitna, near Susitna Landing.
I made an exploratory trip up to Willow this past Monday, looking to see what I could see. I brought along my hooligan dip net and a five-gallon bucket, in case I did find some fish, but I really wasn’t expecting much. As things turned out, there were a fair number of hooligan moving past Willow and on up the Susitna drainage.
There were a couple of guys already dipping when I arrived. They were filling coolers full of fish and loading them in their truck. There was another guy there who, I believe, was just getting started in his dipping efforts. I settled on a spot maybe 12-feet upriver from this gentleman and began dipping. Things went slowly at first, netting one to two fish per sweep, but things picked up a little and the fish catching, while not fantastic, was at least steady.
I had told my wife I was only looking for a five-gallon bucket full, at most, if I even got any fish. In maybe an hour-and-a-half of dipping, I had about two-thirds of a five-gallon bucket of fish (108). I had been taking my time with the net sweeps and resting occasionally, so that hour-and-a-half wasn’t steady dipping.
Over the course of that time, a younger guy arrived and started dipping, along with an older gentleman working near me. Everybody spaced out over the available gravel riverbank and, if an overlap of sweeping the net occurred, politely waited for the netter to finish before making their own net sweep. Everybody was polite and friendly and contributed to a generally pleasant afternoon discussion.
We talked about what each of us wanted the fish for, the recipes we each mainly used when cooking the fish, and the fact that hooligan makes great northern pike bait as well as sled dog food. Us “old” guys compared how many joint replacements we each had and who the surgeon was who did the work. I mentioned to the younger guy that if he took the still functioning “original issue” parts off the three of us “older gentlemen” and combined them, he would probably have enough parts to make one complete person.
Even though I wasn’t working all that hard, I still got tired and finally decided to call it a day with my two-thirds-full bucket of fish. I figured my wife would want to try for some fish the next day and I knew I’d probably end up cleaning all the fish as well.
I also wanted to drive up to Susitna Landing to meet the new operators and find out if any hooligan had made it that far north yet. I called my wife as I was leaving Su Landing and left a message on our answering machine to let her know I was headed home and that I had had some good fortune finding hooligan. As it turned out, I arrived home without my wife having heard my phone message. Such is life!
My wife was happy to learn about the fish and, as I write this, we’re making plans to head north one more time to, hopefully, put a few more hooligan in the freezer. This time, my wife will help clean fish too!