Dipnetting for Alaskan Salmon

Dipnetting: Subsistence Salmon Fishing

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You may have noticed last week I posted our UK post without pictures. It’s now updated, so check that out. The reason? The reds were running! If that phrase makes no sense to you, I’ll translate: “Over 50,000 Sockeye salmon are running up the Kenai river every single day and everything must stop so we can go catch them!”

I’m sure you’ve heard that Alaska is good for fishing. That’s true. But it’s more than that. Fishing is such a part of life up here, July is completely unproductive statewide. If people are actually AT work, they’re probably obsessively checking the daily fish counts, texting co-workers that are fishing, or checking social media to see if people are catching successfully to determine when they should go! It’s such a part of life that Mr. T’s company used to drop a “personal holiday” in each employee’s account on July 1 to use at their discretion (but everyone used it to go fishing).*

As Alaska residents, we get to fish with a giant net and catch 65 salmon. To read more about the process, check out last year’s post on Dipnetting. This year, Penny was asking why everyone can’t fish like we can. “Because everyone would do it!” My kids have no idea how lucky they are.

I will repeat again how much I love dipnetting. Everyone on the beach is super helpful, communal, and friendly. When one person catches a fish, everyone celebrates because that means everyone will catch! It’s one of the most amazing experiences and my favorite time of year!

How did we do? We got down to the beach on Wednesday evening and fished for about an hour, but things were slow. We caught 4 salmon, but they were large! The next morning, Mr. T started fishing right at 6AM (when you can legally start fishing) and caught 23 salmon in 2 hours! We could have caught more, but we always fill up our two coolers and then quit (because we know those two coolers equal the perfect amount for our family for a year). Total count: 27 salmon. – This equals just over 87 lbs of edible meat (87.125 lbs to be exact). This translates to 46 fillets and another 14 lbs sent off to be smoked. Our smallest fillet: 12 oz (we send the little ones to be smoked). Biggest fillet: 40 oz (our largest fillet in history!). In all, we caught less fish than last year, but ended up with about 10 lbs more meat because these ones were much larger!

Alaska Dipnetting

THE NUMBERS:

Every year I calculate all the expenses associated with dipnetting to see just how good of a deal we’re getting on our salmon.**

Costs:

  • $13.35 – 1 camping chair for Lui (he’s old enough to need his own now) and 2 five gallon water containers, since we seemed to have misplaced ours (we used a leftover birthday gift card for $25 of the total purchase).
  • $9.56 – Ice to keep the fish cool after catching.
  • $30 – Gas for the car.
  • $34.50 – FoodSaver bags to package all of our salmon.
  • $25 – The cost to camp on the beach one night.
  • $20 – There’s a $10 drop-off fee for each day to drop your stuff off at the beach and then to pick it up the next day.
  • $24 – Mr. T’s fishing license.
  • $77 – The cost to have 14 lbs of our salmon professionally smoked.
  • $18.61 – Blizzards at Dairy Queen for the whole family on the way home.

Total Costs: $252.02

Total Cost Per Pound: $2.89

Our children are real Alaskans now. Penny was able to identify the sex of each salmon with 100% accuracy (Mr. T and I can’t do that!). And once we cut them open to verify (and also to gut them, obviously), Florin embraced the Alaskan pastime of throwing the salmon eggs to the seagulls to watch them dive-bomb to eat them.

Alaska Dipnetting Seagulls

Then we came home, scrubbed, filleted, and packaged our salmon and then everyone took long hot showers with lots of soap to get the fishiness off!

How much do you pay for salmon in your part of the world?


*As oil prices bottomed out and Mr. T’s company threatened the lay-offs last summer that prompted this very blog to be born, the “fishing holiday” was cut. Alas. 

**Even if it wasn’t a fabulous deal, we would probably still do it to enjoy the freshest salmon available…fresh, never frozen salmon melts in your mouth like filet mignon. Also, we love dipnetting so much!

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which, at no cost to you, helps support Northern Expenditure and keeps our heat on in the winter. Thanks!

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23 Comments

  1. That is such a cool story! I would love to see it (and give it a try!) What a neat experience for your kids too. Frozen salmon here costs over $11.00 a pound and I have trouble paying that (when I really don’t like it). I bet I would try it more often if I could catch it myself (and at those prices!!) Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is really awesome. I love how you’re working hard, together as a family, to eat healthy while saving money – WIN, WIN, WIN. I wish there was something similar that we could do. Mr. Smith is generally not a huge fan of seafood, but everyone is willing to eat fish once in a while. We are headed to Maine on vacation in August. I asked Mr. Smith about whether there is any way we could catch a bunch of fish to bring home with us (in large part thanks to your inspiration). He’s going to think about it.

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s definitely my favorite event of the year and I love that my kids know where (some) of their food comes from and the process involved in getting it from river to table.

  3. Fresh salmon sounds amazing! We had some our friends caught in Alaska, but it was frozen for shipping home. Here we can get it for $4/pound but I’m sure the quality is not the same. That picture is awesome–thanks for sharing about this fun tradition!

    • MaggieBanks

      We freeze ours, but we scrub them completely so they are not frozen with any scales or slime that make them taste “Fishy” – every year I’m tempted by cheap rates for someone else to process my salmon, but then I remember they don’t put the time and care into my salmon packaging like I do and they’ll taste more fishy out of the freezer. Mine taste fresh all year!

  4. I’m thinking about the big bucks that some people pay for salmon roe sushi, and you’re just throwing it to the birds for free. LOL. I love how you guys all do this as a family — even if you leave AK one day, you’ll have such great memories from it all. Not to mention you will have eaten a lot of delicious salmon for cheap! We have no opportunities for cheap food like this nearby, unless we want to start trapping squirrels — no thanks! 😉

  5. We manage to get “free” salmon from my husband’s parents who fish throughout the summer. I haven’t had to buy any salmon from the store in years, it is great! Every time they visit they bring some more down… which reminds me… I think I still have one pack left in the freezer from their last visit. I should get that out and eat it this week because we will be visiting them again soon and will be able to stock up again. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      You can’t beat free salmon… although, I have to say, catching it is way more fun! 🙂

  6. I haven’t had much success when it comes to fishing but have purchased whole salmon quite a number of times. Can’t say it’s cheaper than what you calculated though. Gotta love what you do as a family, you get to spend time together and enjoy cheap yet delicious salmon. Double win. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s a favorite tradition, for sure. And such a crazy, amazing experience!

  7. That’s awesome that you get to enjoy that and get the family time in too. Even more cool that the whole community is excited about it and participating. I can’t wait to get to a smaller community and have that kind of connection with people again.

    I was thinking the same things as ONL about the salmon roe, and also, “Man, I bet that would make some awesome bait to put on a fly rod later on”. 🙂

    In CO the landlocked salmon would come out of the deep lakes to the feeder streams to spawn and you could catch a LOT of trout with a little fuzzy pink yarn tied on a hook and trimmed to look like salmon roe. 🙂 Ahh, the good old days.

    • MaggieBanks

      A lot of people save the eggs for bait as well. We only dipnet, so we don’t need it. 🙂

  8. Kim from Philadelphia

    I’m totally salivating thinking about the delicious salmon…

  9. Suuuuper envious about all that salmon, Maggie. Impressive haul for a great price!

  10. Wow that sounds like a lot of fun and a frugal way to get a great and tasty protein source! I usually only eat salmon if work/client is paying 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s a BLAST! Totally my favorite. And fresh Alaskan salmon can’t be beat!

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