We planned on going backpacking our first weekend in Alaska, but we got a call from my friend Robert Mullen (aka Bobby). Bobby lives in Anchor Point, about a 25 minute drive from Devan’s apartment in Homer. We hoped to meet one evening for dinner, but had trouble working out a time. Then Bobby said he wanted to go subsistence fishing on the Kenai River on Saturday. He also mentioned that he and Devan previously planned on going fishing together sometime. Well, subsistence fishing trumps backpacking, because it is only open for a short window. Rules for subsistence fishing is a little different: only Alaska residents can fish, you can use dip nets, and you can catch up to 25 salmon per fisherman plus 10 more for each person in your household. The purpose is to catch enough food to help your family get through the winter, since many jobs here are seasonal.
We met Bobby in Anchor Point and followed him to the boat launch in Kenai. None of us have ever done this before, so we expected a comedy of errors. Since Dave and I are not residents, we cannot touch the dip nets and are only along for the ride. Devan and Bobby are on their own to figure it out (and in front of an audience). We brought our supplies on Bobby’s boat and launched it into the river.
Bobby drove us out into the river where we saw boats lining up and dropping their nets near the shoreline. They drove idle speed down river holding their nets in the water. I watched Devan assemble the dip net as Bobby swung us into formation.
My only assistance was tying a bowline onto the net to attach it to the side of the boat. Then Devan was ready to go. He lifted the huge but regulation-size net over the side. “Do I keep it near the surface or drop it low?” No one had any idea. It was going to be trial and error.
So we watched other people doing it. We couldn’t tell how low people were keeping the nets, though, because the handles all varied in length. Bobby’s net had a really long handle. This person caught a salmon, while another guy had a dip net on the other side of the boat and a third person drove the boat. We quickly learned why ALL the other boats had at least two nets out, one on either side of the boat. The drag caused by the net changed the steering of the boat, so we tended to go in circles with only one net.
However, it didn’t take long for Devan to catch his first salmon. So going in circles may not have been such a bad thing. Bobby helped Devan bring it in and Dave took over driving.
The small fishing boat with a 75 hp outboard felt totally different from our 44’ catamaran with two 42 hp inboard engines! We were in such shallow water around the edges of the river that Dave and I kept feeling like we would go aground. But Bobby’s boat has 1 to 1 ½ foot draft, almost nothing! It was really a great boat for river or lake fishing!
After turning around and getting back into formation again, Devan caught another salmon in nearly the same spot, pictured at top of page with both salmon. He was off to a great start! Dave and I were happy to be on the water again. The ground feels so hard! We are definitely missing being on Livin’ Life! But the fun was just beginning.
The two fish you are allowed to keep dip netting are salmon (except kings) and flounder. Devan caught a dolly varden, but had to throw it back. So far he had caught 3 or 4 salmon, so he shouldn’t miss the dolly. Then Devan felt a lot of drag on the net. He thought he picked up some seaweed or sticks. He brought up the net to find a small flounder in it. Apparently, when it got caught in the net it turned sideways, causing the drag.
Devan caught one more flounder, a bigger one this time, and it caused the net to feel a lot of drag, too. Devan said there is no doubt when you catch a flounder, but he couldn’t really feel when he had a salmon. Bobby took a turn dip netting while Dave continued driving. Bobby had pretty good luck, too, and after just a few hours of figuring out how to do it they had 7 salmon and 2 flounder between them. Not bad. Devan forgot his dip netting card, so Bobby had to claim all the fish on his and, therefore, took all the fish home. Well, it was a great trial run and maybe they will get a chance to do it again before the season closes.
We brought our camping stuff to stay the night by Johnson Lake, but Bobby wanted to go home. So we parted ways and drove to Johnson Lake. It was packed, not a camping site available. We turned back onto the Sterling Highway towards Homer and checked every campsite along the way until we found one with some availability and relative privacy. We found a nice one in Ninilchik. While choosing a site, we spotted a momma and baby moose. Of course, I instantly loved that campground.
It was already 9:00 PM and getting quite chilly, so we set up the tents and lit a campfire. If you haven’t heard about the mosquitoes in Alaska, they are quite large and can be very annoying. The campfire did the trick, though, and cleared them out. Having been in the Caribbean for most of the year, we got used to the occasional tiny mosquito. I’d forgotten just how big they can be in Alaska. If you include the leg span, they are about the size of a quarter versus the Caribbean mosquitoes that are the size of a dime. With the mosquitoes gone, we could enjoy a game of Skip-Bo. Yes, have cards will travel. We have Skip-Bo’d all down the Caribbean, in Thailand, and now in Alaska. Yes, we play other games, too, but this one has staying power. ~ Awoken by rain the following morning, we didn’t dally in Ninilchik. We broke down camp and drove back to Homer. Another good trial run. Next up will be backpacking into the backwoods.