The tide was low as Ventis Plume tended to his campfire on the Kasilof River Friday morning, the opening day for dipnetting on the river.
In his 90s, he doesn’t dipnet anymore.
“I’m too old for dipnetting. That’s physical, for a young person,” he said.
Instead, he was wrapping up his 10-day setnet fishing trip in time for anglers to hit the high tide.
“I still picked a few nets, you know,” Plume said.
Plume came fishing with Robin Denicola and her daughter Ashley, who are good family friends from Kasilof. Plume makes the trip every year from Anchorage.
“We met Ventis three seasons ago,” Denicola said. “We’ve adopted each other.”
She said she just likes listening to Plume.
“He knows so much about life, you know, stuff that gets lost in the day to day,” Denicola said.
Plume said he has been personal-use fishing for about 30 years, and Denicola said he still gets up and starts the fire every morning.
The trio caught their limit by the time fishing wrapped up on Thursday, so they didn’t need to dipnet.
“Four years ago, before we met everybody to come here, we were coming to dipnet,” Denicola said.
Plume said the rate of return of the sockeye reds they were fishing for seemed to be larger this year.
“This year was probably a little better than last year,” he said. “We had some empty nets last year.”
Their camp was equipped with multiple tents, a raised cot for Plume and a full camp kitchen, which Denicola’s friend Matt Reams set up in the first week of June.
“This is the only time we camp, for our family in particular,” Denicola said. “Living here is survival so camping is a break.”
She said they are going to conclude their camping trip with a big dinner over the weekend to mark the end of their Kasilof summer setnet.
“It’s fun, we love it,” Denicola said.
Along the river, other families were preparing for their first Kasilof dipnet of the season.
Larisa Sherenko has been coming from her home in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley to the Kasilof to dipnet for almost 13 years now.
“This is the fun place,” she said. “And yeah, if we catch fish it’s a plus.”
Sherenko said they mainly all gather to dipnet for the “experience, the fun and the beauty.”
Last year was pretty slow — they only caught two fish in three days. The previous summer, however, Sherenko said they caught around 20.
She started dipnetting with her husband and family after they moved to Alaska from Washington.
The first year, Sherenko said, they slept overnight in their cars. Then they tent-camped with infants for a few years. After that, she said, they decided to invest in some better gear. Now they park their campers and all-terrain vehicles and make a whole weekend out of it.
“Mostly it’s for the kids, they love it,” Sherenko said. “We literally wait all year for this trip.”
A good dipnetting weekend was a theme among people on the river.
Molly Kearns, Melanie Peter and Monica Ratliff — longtime friends — have been fishing on the Kasilof for a few years now. Kearns and Ratliff are from Chicago originally, but all three live in Anchorage now.
“It’s usually kind of the same little crew,” Peter said. “Little lady time.”
They come to dipnet usually one weekend during the summer. Last year they said they bagged around 10, so they’re hoping for a good run this year.
Marsielee Sims and Shardae Washington also made camp on Thursday night to prepare for the weekend of dipnetting with their families.
They’re also originally from Chicago, but have since moved to Anchorage. They said they usually make dipnetting trips to Kasilof two or three times a season.
Washington said they caught 13 fish in one dipnet trip last year.
“We’re spoiled,” Sims said. “Once we started eating it fresh out of the ocean we can’t even buy it from the store anymore.”
She started dipnetting after her mom learned to fish from some of her colleagues.
“They introduced my mom to it and she fell in love and then introduced me and my sister and we fell in love,” Sims said. Later, she introduced Washington to dipnetting.
“Fishing is hard work,” Washington said. “These people do not receive enough credit.”
Dipnetting on the Kasilof River is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Aug. 7. Anglers must have an Upper Cook Inlet personal use permit as well as a sport fishing license. No retention of king salmon is allowed.
For more information on the Kasilof River Dipnet Fishery contact the Soldotna office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 907-262-9368.