The first day of dipnetting season on the Kenai River this year was relatively quiet, but those who were there reported good weather and solid fishing.
Dipnetters on the Kenai River have the option of heading down to one of two beach sites on foot or launching their boat from the City of Kenai’s public dock.
The fee stations at the docks and the beach sites are staffed by local seasonal workers like Viorica Thompson, who looks forward to the job every year because she gets to meet people coming from all over Alaska.
“It’s only a month, and I wish it lasted two or three,” Thompson said.
Thompson, who started her shift at noon Friday, hadn’t yet seen the long line of cars hoping to access the river that she normally deals with during the season.
This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the fee stations were operating on a cashless basis. Employees like Thompson spoke to patrons through a microphone and had them swipe their credit cards on a machine located outside of the tollbooth to minimize the physical interaction between employees and guests. Thompson said that only one person during her shift that day had given her a hard time about the fee stations going cashless, and for the most part people had been amenable to the changes.
John-Mark Pothast, who was working the docks as a seasonal city employee for his second year, said that the morning was actually a little busier than he anticipated.
“They have the app that I was looking at, and I remembered last year our opener was on a Wednesday, so it was super quiet,” Pothast said. “And so maybe since today is a Friday that’s why it’s been a little busier.”
The City of Kenai has an app available for smartphones that provides live updates on tides, weather and fish counts, as well as live camera feeds of the different dipnetting locations.
Kenai’s Public Works Director Scott Curtin and City Council Member Robert Peterkin were at the docks Friday afternoon, and they said that while it had been a quiet start with only about 30 or 40 boats in the water, some people were already coming back and reporting decent hauls.
“I’m not sure about numbers but they’re definitely out there,” Curtin said.
“We just saw a guy with his haul, and it wasn’t amazing but he held like five in each hand,” Peterkin said.
The day started cloudy, but by mid-afternoon the sun was out in full force. Curtin said that as long as the weather stayed good, he expected that participation would pick up significantly over the weekend.
Down on the shores of the north Kenai Beach, there were a few dozen dipnetters by mid-afternoon with tents set up and nets in the water.
Shawn Dick, of Talkeetna, was carrying a freshly caught salmon up from the shore on Friday — the 13th catch of the day between him and his father-in-law, David Donaldson of Anchorage. Donaldson met him halfway and began helping him untangle the fish from the net.
Dipnetting on the Kenai River is a yearly tradition for the father and son, who were planning to spend the weekend stocking up on fish.
Also on their annual family trip was Justin Houghtelling, of Palmer, his two sons and some of their friends.
Houghtelling was filleting his group’s seventh catch of the day on the shore, and he said that this year’s opener was pretty similar to others that he’s experienced.
“There was one year I was here where we’d be putting our nets in and getting fish right away,” Houghtelling. “The rest of the times I’ve been here it’s been like this. It gets a little bit faster as the days go on.”
Kenai Police Officer Gabe Holmann was posted at the parking lot of the north Kenai Beach on Spruce Street. He said the day had been quiet on his end as well. He was watching the parking lot while a few seasonally employed officers were patrolling the beaches on ATVs to make sure things stayed peaceful among the dipnetters.
“The regular incidents you see here are just like, maybe a couple ‘pre-fights’, you know, people getting on each other’s nerves, but that hasn’t been a big issue really,” Holmann said. “Then there’s also people getting into other people’s stuff, things like that. Minor things. But that’s about it, nothing big at all.”
The dipnet season on the Kenai River is open every day until July 31 between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Alaska residents need both a valid Sport Fishing License and an Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use permit to access the fishery, both of which can be obtained by going to adfg.alaska.gov.
Kenai River late-run sockeye
So far: 73,827
Estimated Kenai River late-run kings
So far: 1,249
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Estimated Anchor River kings