Another fabulous benefit of being an Alaska state resident is the opportunity to dipnet for personal-use salmon. Between July 10-31, Alaska residents can use a gigantic net on a really long pole to catch salmon. The household limit is 25 for the head of household and 10 for each household member thereafter. If you haven’t already done the math in your head, our household limit is 65 salmon. Now that’s a ridiculous amount of salmon. We don’t bring home nearly that amount and we still eat it weekly in our home. It helps significantly with the food budget plus the added health benefits. And kids love salmon. Florin and Lui ate tons of it as babies and loved it. They still do.
Dipnetting is among my favorite holidays. The kids love camping right on the beach and I love the communal atmosphere that prevails. The first year we participated, I thought it would be highly competitive with people trying to push other people out of the way. Instead, everyone is super helpful and everyone is excited when anyone catches fish. It’s so great. Even when people aren’t fishing, there aren’t strangers on the beach. Some guy camping next to us brought over his propane firepit and camping chair and we all had a lovely chat over muffins. One year Mr. T’s net got caught on a rock in the river and he got stuck. A man with (literally) a feather in his cap appeared and saved him. Another year our camping stove broke and someone passing by saw Mr. T working on it and he came over and fixed it. Dipnetting is just that way.
So how does it work? Some people dipnet off their boats. Some people just stand in the water with the dipnet until a fish jumps in. Other people get out into the middle of the river with wet suits and swim to shore when a fish jumps in their net. We prefer to do the “walking method” where the pole is about 25 feet long. You push the 5′ diameter net out into the water on the long pole and walk in as high up on your chest waders as you’re willing and then you start walking down the river toward the ocean with your net as the tide goes out. You walk about 40 yards, pull the net out, and walk back to where you went in to try again. If the tide is good, you can catch 1-2 salmon on nearly every walk. When you feel a salmon hit the net, you flip the net down and run straight out of the water as fast as you can until the salmon is dragged onto the beach (this is harder than it sounds).
It’s always a gamble as to when to go fishing. The state tracks the numbers of fish in the river daily, but the numbers are about a day behind the entrance of the river where the fish is caught. Some people wait until these number spike to head out (anywhere between 60,000 to the 212,000 fish we had at the peak a few years ago). Other people head out on specific dates that have been notoriously good in the past. And others go with the tides. Since it’s legal to dipnet between 6AM and 11PM, it’s good to have two low tides during that period in which to fish. We’ve tried all the methods and haven’t entirely decided which is the best one. We try to go before the crowds arrive but when the fish have started to come. It’s hard to time it just right.
This Year’s Numbers:
I would consider this year a great year. Though the state’s recorded numbers were still around 20,000, we had two good tides. We caught 35 fish this year which equated to 77 pounds of edible meat. We dropped off 19 pounds to be smoked at $5.50/pound. (Although this is much less than the $29-32/pound pre-packaged smoked salmon costs at the local tourist shop, it is still a cost I may look into lowering next year.) After dropping off our 19 pounds of smallest fish to be smoked, we are left with 44 salmon fillets which will last us the year eating it nearly weekly.
- $48 for two fishing permits (I am usually just on mom duty, but my parents came up this year to witness the event, so I got to do a bit of fishing this year, which I love).
- $25 camping fee (we avoid the $55 overnight parking fee by bringing an old bike, dropping off our gear, and then parking a mile away and riding back on the bike).
- $60 for a vacuum sealer (we used to borrow one from our cousins, but they moved, and these are tough items to borrow since everyone only uses them once a year at the exact same time).
- $35 for bags for the vacuum sealer for all 44 fillets.
- $30 worth of gas to drive round trip.
- $104.50 for professional smoking of 19 pounds of salmon.
$302.50 or $3.93/lb of fresh-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon. Delicious.
Out of curiosity, how much does salmon cost in your neck of the woods?