Some fishy facts about dip netting in Alaska

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Mt Redoubt

After a few days in Homer, we back-tracked on the Sterling Highway and went up north to Kenai, the largest and the oldest city on the Kenai Peninsula . This was a “lazy stop,” since we had been in this area before and didn’t need to explore much.  The RV park we stayed at had spectacular views of the Kenai River, Cook Inlet and on a clear day two of the four active volcanoes, Mt Redoubt and Mt Iliamna.

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska’s Playground

When we pulled into the park we noticed immediately that all of the guests seemed harried and in a frenzy, full of energy.  We later learned that we arrived here at the peak time of the Kenai River personal use salmon dip netting season.  The season began on July 10 and ends July 31.  This is the period during which all Alaskans put everything on hold and fill their freezers with FRESH SALMON.

Watching the action below from the bluff at the RV park

So what is dip netting?  To dip net, anglers stand in the mouth of the River holding large nets with long handles.  As the fish move from the ocean to the river, they swim along the shoreline in large groups.  When the time is right, one can catch enormous amount of Salmon in this way.  And this type of fishing is exclusive only to Alaska residents, no tourists allowed.  However, the seasonal harvest limit is 25 per household, plus 10 per dependent, and all fish must be marked.  As you can imagine, it’s somewhat of an “honor” system.  As I mentioned in my previous blog, fishing regulations are complicated .

Mt Redoubt

Mt. Redoubt on the background

Old man showing off his catch

dip netting

Women are great “fisher people”, too!

Dip Netting

Bleeding a Salmon

The catch, Sockeye Salmon

Lady busy cleaning her fish

We  became spectators of the shore-based dip netting frenzy at the Cook Inlet shoreline while we were there. Especially on the first day, we saw hundreds of fish literally jumping out of the water and into people’s nets.  It was an amazing sight to see hundreds of people, including children, intent on the family project.  Only in Alaska can you see this kind of frenzy.

Both sides of the shoreline were packed with frenzied fishermen

Kenai, AK

The aftermath

The aftermath, and it really stinks here 😦

The clean up crew, not a great job and the odor is almost unbearable on the beach

On our last day here we were invited to a BBQ party in Nikiski, 17 miles from Kenai. I finally met Gemma in person whom I initially met on a Yahoo group for the high school I  graduated from. We continued our friendship on FB and finally visited her and family in Nikiski. That was an exciting day for me  and I met her husband  also named Steve, her sisters and cousins. We had a great time and we met nice local residents.

Halibut and Razor Clams in Ninilchik – yum, yum!

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Ninilchik,  meaning  “peaceful settlement  by the river ” was our next stop on the Kenai Peninsula.  This town has a rich Russian influence dating back to the early 19th century.  A Russian Orthodox Church was built in 1901, and the historic cemetery on the hill continues to overlook the rustic village of Ninilchik.  This is also a town from which world-class Halibut and Salmon fishing charters are launched to the Cook Inlet.

Old Ninilchik Village

Russian Church and Cemetery

Russian Church and cemetery

We had a lot of excitement and action during our four-day stay here, and we just loved this little town.

First off, I caught a fish – not just any fish – a HALIBUT!  Yes I did!  I hopped aboard one of the charters and went with a group of six for some serious ocean fishing.  My first scheduled outing was canceled due to 50-knot winds and 4-foot waves, but I managed to get on a trip leaving the next morning.  Unfortunately, I had to shell out an extra $20 to get another 24-hour fishing license.  Steve decided to stay home and defrost the freezer to prepare for arrival of the bounty.

Ninilchik, AK

Some of my fishing buddies, Sarah and Nazly

Launching of the fishing boats is a choreographed dance of tractors and boats – in goes one boat and out comes another in a matter of seconds.

Ninilchik, Alaska

Tractor launching boats

It was raining hard as we sped off several miles into the open ocean.  The excitement built as our bait was grabbed by the Halibut.  The hard work began once the fish was hooked and I had to reel it up some 250 feet from the ocean floor.  Halibut are bottom feeders, so a 5 lb. sinker is attached to the end of the line.  I had to reel that in, plus the weight of the bait, plus a 30 lb. fish.  To say it was extremely tiring is an understatement.

I had to take rests during my reeling, as my arms tired and took much of my energy and effort – and the rain was relentless.  The good thing was that Sarah and Nazly cheered me on and helped reel when I needed a break.  I was warned that it would be hard work, but I didn’t know how hard until I caught my first Halibut.  And the worst part is that I had to let go of the first three I caught, as they were too small according to the skipper.

I also caught a black cod which had to be released as well.  I think I reeled in six but got to keep only two, per regulations.  I was totally exhausted – what day!

Halibut Fishing, Ninilchik Alaska

The hard-working fisherman and women, Nazly, Mark and Sarah

We were soaking wet and cold after our six hours on the ocean, but we were very happy with the catch – check it out!

Ninilchik Charters, Alaska

Our catch of the day

And after filleting it for us, this is what I got to take home, almost 20 lbs. of Halibut fillets. Woo hoo!  But I won’t ever go fishing for them again.

Halibut Fillets

We’ll be eating this tasty Halibut for the rest of our trip!

One of the most popular activities in Ninilchik is digging for Razor clams.  It turned out that the following day was a monthly “minus tide”, and the beach in Ninilchik was exposed for hundreds of feet down to the waterline.  Perfect for digging for Razor clams.  Steve went out with fellow RV’er Jacob to learn how it’s done.  They caught a lot of clams, and only came home when the tide chased them back.

Razor Clamming

It’s worth getting muddy for these excellent Razor clams

Alaskan Razor Clams

Alaskan Razor Clams

Razor Clamming in Ninilchik, Alaska

Steve is excited that he found several clams during their trek

Razor Clamming

The clammers bringing back the catch of the day.

We all agreed to trading Razor clams for Halibut.  Hey, what a deal – we didn’t have to dig up or clean the clams, and although it was my hard-earned Halibut that we had to give away, we were looking forward to trying the clams.

Razor Clams

Here are the 26 clams Jacob and Steve harvested and bartered with our halibut, about 3.5 pounds. It was painful to give up the halibut, but the clams are awesome raw with wasabe and soy sauce, fried, or in clam chowder.

Clam Stew

Clam stew is what’s for dinner

I want to give a shout out to Roadlife for her Clam Stew recipe.  What a wonderful dinner we had that night!