Dip Net Fishing the Alaska Way!

Robert and Tyler

Dipnet Fishing in Kasilof, Alaska

This past weekend, my son Tyler and I had the opportunity to become a “real” Alaskan. We were invited to my friend, Dave Scheer’s place in Kasilof to dip net fish for silver salmon.

Dave is an old school Iditaroder, participating in the race in the 1980s and 90s and ran his teams from this very place in Kasilof just about a half mile from the beach.

I drove down after work on Friday evening, some 220 miles from Willow. Kasilof is on the Kenai peninsula in between Sterling and Homer. When I arrived at about 8:30 pm after driving nearly four hours in bumper to bumper traffic of dozens of R.V.s, tourists and Alaskan’s with ALL their toys, I was welcomed by Dave, his son Adam and Tyler. They had been down here for more than a week attempting to set net fish. Dave and Adam each hold a commercial fishing permit. Usually it is very good fishing but this year was terrible. Put it this way, last year, Adam who was 11, was walking around with a grand in cash in his pocket. This year they were only allowed to fish one day.

On Saturday morning Tyler and I  woke up and headed to the mouth of the Kasilof River to start fishing from the bank. Dip net fishing is a purely Alaskan experience. Every Alaska resident is allowed to obtain “personal use” fish by dip net. The head of household is allowed 25 and each dependent is allowed 10. That means the Forto clan can take home 55 prized fish.

99% of the dip netters fish from the banks, often wading chest deep in the swift current of the river, with huge 4-feet-across nets on long poles. They hold their nets in the water, just inches from the bottom and the fish swim into the net and are caught. What is interesting is there was probably 5000 people on the shores no longer than 1/4 mile long at the mouth of the river as it heads upstream from the beach.

If you don’t know much about salmon, there are several species: The prized Kings, silvers (or coho which we were fishing for), reds (or sockeye), chum and pink (or humpy). Each one of these species arrived at slightly different times as they make their way to the exact location they were born several years before. The cycle of life for these fish is utterly amazing. They are born in the freshwater rivers then swim downstream to the ocean and live for several years before making the ultimate pilgrimage back to the place of their birth to spawn and die. When they arrive at this location they “dig a hole and clean the rocks around the the area by slapping and flopping around. The females lay their eggs and the males do their job. Shortly after the long journey is over for these magnificent fish and they succumb to the fresh water.

Back to the fishing… Tyler and I fished from shore for about an hour, catching three fish. Dave and his girlfriend Sandy, and Adam arrived with the boat around 1:30 and then the fun began! For the next several hours we drifted up and back on this short stretch of water eventually catching 72 silver salmon. We used four dip nets. One of them on the bow was very “hot” catching at least 75% of the fish. We worked in the misty rain like a finely trained team. Four of us were operating the nets while Adam would take the fish out of the nets and bleed them. In order to harvest the fish people do it in a couple ways. Some bonk them on the head with a billy club type stick or a rock and others bleed them. To do that you you reach and grab the gills and the fish bleed out and die. This prevents bruising of the meat.

We fished until the high tide was at its peak then returned to the cannery to process our catch. On a good year, Dave and Adam would return their catch to the cannery and would be paid handsomely for their efforts. Today would would process the fish ourself: cutting them up into filets, rinsing them and bagging them up into five fish portions.

We arrived back at camp at about eight o’clock and started up the grill. We all enjoyed a wonderful meal of tri-tip steak, salad, potatoes and the the freshest salmon steaks on the planet. It was divine!

We will head out again Sunday to try and catch our limit of 55 more fish to fulfill all of our family’s quota. I’ll let you know how we do…


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