The state’s largest personal use fishery is happening on the Kenai river. Dipnetters from across the state are crowding onto the north and south beaches at the mouth of the river hoping to fill coolers with sockeye salmon.
Chad Preston is standing chest deep in frigid ocean water. He’s fighting a swift current as he holds onto his dipnet. Preston’s been in the water all day and he’s not smiling.
“Well I’m trying, so far I only caught one fish and I’m disappointed right now.”
Preston at least has one thing going for him- the water is not as crowded as it usually is.
Most people are waiting out the slow period on the beach. Novena Registe is sitting in the breezy sun with a group of friends. She opens up her cooler to show off the seven fish she’s caught so far.
Registe started dipnetting 10 years ago to feed her family. Now she does it for another reason- because she loves it.
“It’s when that fish hit that net and you pull it out, it’s a special feeling that no one can describe.”
Reporter: “Try to describe it.”
Registe: “It just makes you feel so good. It’s just exciting. I just love fishing.”
The crowds on the Kenai are not for everyone. When the fishing is hot, dipnetters are standing shoulder to shoulder in the water. Walking on the beach requires stepping over nets, sleds and other gear. But it’s not hard to find people who love the carnival-like scene, like Monica Workman:
“This is truly the Alaskan experience. And we own a boat and people think we’re crazy, they’re like, why don’t you just take your boat out and we’re like no way! Because this- the whole experience of just being on the beach, the water, the people, the sun- when it’s out- it’s just a really neat experience.”
Workman is dipnetting with her husband and two kids. She says they all have a job to do. Her husband catches the fish. Her son bonks them. Her daughter slices the gills and Workman guts them. This is their 5th year dipnetting. Their first year, she says, things were not as streamlined:
“We didn’t even pack water. We had a little net, my husband had hip waders and I didn’t have a knife, a cooler, nothing. We’re like well, let’s just see what it’s like. And people are so nice out here, there was a lady who lent me everything, she gave me a knife told me how to gut it and everything.”
Now the Workmans are the experts- passing their knowledge along to their friend Robert Carter, who is in his 70’s but dipnetting for the first time. It hasn’t been an easy initiation. Carter has patiently held his net in the water for most of day without catching a single fish. And then- finally- success.
He drags his net onto the beach to inspect his catch:
“It’s a monster!”
Carter holds his dipnet in one hand and his fish in the other and poses for a celebratory picture:
“I want a fancy picture. That was unbelievable!”
And with that, Carter heads back out in the water, going for his next fish.