In Alaska, dipnetters delighted with sockeye surge

Jul 27 2010 - 9:24pm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Of all the fishing cliches that have been repeated for decades, "You should have been here yesterday" may be the hardiest.

Steve Rasmussen is already uttering the words

"Today was the best day ever," Rasmussen said from the mouth of the Kenai River on Monday, after hauling one fat red salmon after another to the beach. "I caught the first day of the heavy-duty run.

"I haven't eaten all day. I'm starving. I think there are two pieces of ham stuffed somewhere in my pocket."

Rasmussen, an Internet developer from Wasilla, Alaska, was taking part in the popular and intoxicating Alaskans-only personal-use dipnet fishery that began Saturday at the mouth of the Kenai River. Action was slow on Saturday, and reportedly slower Sunday.

Not Monday.

"I probably have would have 25 if I didn't have an injured back," said Rasmussen, who brought 15 to the beach. "I see a chiropractor and he makes me take lots of breaks. But every single one of mine must be 15 pounds or better."

"A lot of people around me seem to have their 25."

That's the limit per season for the first household member. Additional household members participating in the Kenai and Kasilof fisheries can take another 10 fish. Anglers need sportfishing licenses--nonresidents are barred from fishing or helping in any way--and each family must have a free permit on which to log the catch.

Tail lobes must be removed before bagging your catch or leaving the beach.

While the fish were storming the Kenai on Monday, Rasmussen said most netters hadn't gotten the word. He estimated the crowd between 1,500 and 2,000 -- a fraction of the 17,000 or so he expects each day later this month.

"No major issues," reported Kenai police chief Gus Sandahl. "Traffic flow was efficient on the beach and at the dock, but we didn't have high numbers of participants."

Rasmussen agreed.

"Everybody's nice," he said. "It's relatively uncrowded. No problems parking at all.

"It's great to be out here. Yesterday and today, the sun has been out. No rain, blue skies. You can see (Mount) Redoubt across the Inlet.

"Must be all that clean living," he laughed.

The Kenai dipnet fishery has exploded in popularity. Last year, an estimated 340,000 red salmon were harvested -- 45 percent more than 2008. As recently as 2006, 128,000 were harvested.

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