Alaska Dipnetting: Getting a Boat-Load of Fish
Alaska dipnetting is a pretty unique, crazy experience. I grew up fishing (not catching much) for crappie, small-mouth bass, and catfish. I loved the art of fishing, though I never really mastered it. I also enjoyed the patience required along with the peace and quiet.
Dipnetting is nothing like that.
What is Dipnetting?
Dipnetting is something Alaska residents get the privilege to take part in. We get to dip for sockeye salmon, a lot of them (actual count is dependent on number of people in your household). You use a five foot diameter net on the end of a pole. Though there are many different shapes: octagon, square, rectangular, your net can’t exceed 5 feet at it’s widest point.
The type of poles used varies a lot as well, dependent on what’s comfortable for different people. Some like welded steel (strong but heavy), some aluminum (my favorite, bit of flex but strong for it’s weight), and some use fiberglass (super light but way too much flex for me). The lengths also vary; if you’re fishing from the shore, longer is typically better, but if you’re in a boat, shorter and more rigid is easier to handle in a small space on turbulent waters.
And speaking of boats, you’re allowed to dip either from the shore (waiting for the fish to come to you) or from a boat (going down the river getting the sockeyes as they head upstream).
How Many Fish Can You Get?
Typically, the limit is 25 for the head of house, and 10 for each additional person in the house. Occasionally they expand it during a great run, but this is pretty rare. So, for us, that comes out to 25 for me, and an additional 30, 10 each for Chelsea, Clara, and Liam, bringing our total to 55 that we are allowed to catch.
Our Successful Alaska Dipnetting Trips, and Less-Successful Ones
Our first year, we ended up with around 40, between the Kenai River and Fish Creek in Wasilla. This year however, we ended up with a lowly total of 16, from the Kenai. Although I guess all things considered, 16 is wayyyy better than 0.
Though this year wasn’t nearly as successful, we learned a lot to help insure our success in the future. We briefly dipped from a boat this year, but mostly from the beach. The beach was much more successful for us. Some of the lessons we learned, which are apparently pretty basic but unknown to us, were:
- Sockeyes run hardest 1 1/2 – 2 hours after tide change.
- They run harder on an outgoing tide (heading toward low tide) than on incoming tide (heading toward high tide)
- Longer poles work far better from the shore, at least at the beaches we were dipping from.
- Aluminum is way better if you’re using an extension for length. The welded steel with extensions was just too much weight for us to handle against the current of the river with the tide going out.
Why Should You Dipnet?
The usual price for salmon fillets where we’re at is $9/lb. So if you averaged 2 pounds per fillet, that’s 4lbs per fish. At 55 fish, that would come out in the ballpark of $2,000 in meat. So, if we spend a bit of time, and money for gas, we still come out around $1,800 in the black. For us, that looks like not having to buy meat. Between salmon, caribou, and moose, our freezer stays pretty full.
On a side note, if you’re visiting and want to get some fresh salmon while you’re here, be careful where you shop. My wife recently saw a 6oz (1/3 of 1 fillet) pre-cooked vacuum-packed fillet for $16 in a tourist shop in downtown Anchorage. That’s $43/lb! You should save your money and head to Costco or the local grocery store (many of which have a fresh seafood section).
Dipnetting in Alaska is a pretty great experience. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do. But, it is a ton of work. The fun part is catching them. Then comes the real work. Cleaning, filleting, vacuum packing, canning and smoking. But in the end, it’s totally worth it!
If you’re interested in how we got here (Alaska) in the first place, check out our “moving” story. Plus it comes with some helpful tips if you’re thinking about moving to Alaska.