With the opening of the Kenai River personal-use fishery today, for the next three weeks thousands of Alaskans armed with dipnets will be looking to get their allotment of salmon.
Whether people fish from the shore or on a boat, the use of the right dipnet matters. Several welding shops on the Kenai Peninsula have devoted the last two months to manufacturing dipnets of different shapes and sizes. For Kenai Welding, Pro Apollo and Mike’s Welding each have found their niche in the market and some shared some tips on how they are made.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game defines a dipnet as a bag-shaped net supported on all sides by a rigid frame. The frame opening must not exceed five feet and must be attached to a single handle and operated by hand. Pole length can vary from six to 20 feet long.
How do you make a dipnet?
Buck Kunz from Mike’s Welding said his father Mike started making dipnets for himself and friends out of his garage in the late 1980s. When people saw how well it worked on the beach, they started asking him to make more and it took off, Buck Kuntz said.
Through the years of experimenting and re-engineering nets, Mike Kunz has developed an oval shaped hoop, which reduces water drag. The custom designed extruded convex shaped aluminum tube provides a smoother flow of water past the hoop and the shape makes it stronger and more resistant to bending.
The process starts with a full piece of aluminum tubing that goes through a machine and is heated up to roll the hoop. To bend the circular frame takes about a minute, Buck Kunz said.
Then the frame goes on a table and gets welded together with supporting jig pieces. Then the rough spots are ground down and the frame gets cleaned off in an acid wash, he said.
Then a gillnet, either a 3.5 inch mesh for a boat dipnet or a 4.5 inch mesh for a beach net is woven to the frame with string. Finally the handle gets plugged on and the net is ready for dipping.
Buck Kunz said the welded metal is sturdy and when used on the beach should last a lifetime. The string that holds the net on is the part that wears out the quickest. He said a lot of people like to tape it or wrap a garden hose around the hoop to protect the string.
Two guys can make about 20 dipnets a day, he said. The price of their dipnets range from $175 to $200 and typically they have sold out by July 20.
Lonnie Lambert, owner of Pro Apollo in Ninilchik has been frantically filling dipnet orders to meet the demand. On Monday he delivered 25 dipnets to be sold at Trustworthy Hardware in Soldotna, with another 70 on order.
Lambert developed a dipnet unlike any other with a patented inter-ring system. He received the patent in 2011 and has sold out his nets each year since.
The inter-ring system is a smaller hoop inside of the larger dip net hoop with a series of eyes welded to the larger hoop. The small hoop can be easily removed, which allows for quick and easy net changes, he said.
Lambert said the main reason he came up with the inter-ring system was because he didn’t want to re-tie lines after they wear off in the bottom of the river.
“Most dip nets are strung on the outside of the hoop, so when the string breaks, then you have to tie it again,” Lambert said. “Mine have an inter-ring that goes around on the inside so there’s no string on the outside of the hoop. There’s nothing to rub on the bottom of the river.”
Lambert sells both boat and shore dipnets, one-piece and removable handle with a 51-inch to 60-inch hoop. The shapes come in round, D-shape or flat bottom. He said the flat bottom boat net his is most popular, while he makes the only D-shape dipnet in the state, ideal for use on the shore. Both cost $236.
“The bottom of the river is where the fish are,” he said.
Lambert said he uses aircraft alloy aluminum rod because it is stronger. He said his dipnets are made to last a decade.
“My dipnets are really durable,” he said. “Whenever you buy something you want it to last a long time.”
With a three-person team the process starts by rolling the hoop with a machine to the right diameter. Specialized equipment, designed by Lambert, allows him to roll the aluminum tubing to fit the design of his dip nets. He said his dipnets take longer to make because of the eyes that hold the inter-ring.
Once the frame is set his daughter Lexi attaches the net through the inter-ring eyes. The nets, from Kachemak Gear Shed in Homer, are strung on the inside hoops are cut from bales of webbing and sewn into a bag-type shape, he said.
Lambert said this year has been his busiest. He started selling his dipnets to Bass Pro Shop in Anchorage in addition to several other local retailers. With Fish and Game changing regulations and subsistence gillnetting not allowed until kings have made their run, he said he has sold a lot of dipnets to fishermen in Bethel because with a dipnet it is possible to release the kings.
“Dipnets are good for the ecology of the kings,” he said. “Fish and Game recognizes the need for dipnets. It is good for the whole fishery and people can still get their fish.”
Lambert said so many people endure standing waist high in freezing cold water because a net in the water full of fish takes the pressure off anglers looking to reach their limit.
“As soon as there is a fish in the net there is nothing like the feeling,” he said. “Then you wait and get a few of them then you really have a tussle on your hands. It feels so good to have a fish hit hard.”