This past weekend I was encouraged by the high numbers of bikers and hikers heading down the trail at Chitina. Perhaps a third of the users were hikers and bikers… and while ATV users still rule, the growth of bikers over the past five years is a trend that I’d like to see continue. And so while I am conflicted on giving away techniques on how to successfully fill your freezer from a bike the truth is the ATV crowd has no qualms giving away tips so I might as well contribute my $.02.
Let me first say that if there was ever a place for ATV usage then it’s the O'Brien Creek road. If there were ever a need for ATV usage then it would be to carry coolers full of fish back to your truck. And if there were ever a demographic where ATV usage was justified it would be for the elder users who cannot make it back to the fishing spots utilizing a bike or hiking. Furthermore - the majority of the ATV users you meet on the trail and friendly and respect the fishery and the river.
That said - the majority of the ATV crowd are men in their mid 30s and early 40s who are just too lazy to walk back and forth with their fish. I can’t really say I blame them for not wanting to carry 200 lbs of fish out on their backs - but with the lazy users come a small but impactful population of users who routinely leave trash, shit wherever they please, build huge campfires and chop down trees on a whim. And within the ATV demographic there is always a small group of 20-something drivers who hate hikers and bikers and will make it known to you that you’re not welcome by driving fast and running you off the trail.
Thus this post is all about encouraging bikers and hikers to head into Chitina. With more bikers and hikers on the Chitina trail, ATV users will be forced to drive a little slower and deal with a user group that doesn't fall into the "drive fast and kill ‘em all" AK lifestyle. Hopefully with increased non-motorized usage the dipnetting experience will revert to respecting the river and working hard to harvest your fish - and less about driving fast, shooting guns and drinking beer.
And with that said on to how to dipnet with a bike… Everyone has their own method - some of those methods work, some don’t. Here's my take:
Trailer: A bike trailer makes things easier. The BOB trailers work great - but they’re fairly expensive. In the past I bought a used kid trailer off Craigslist for $30 and it works well enough - but anything will work as long as it stays attached and doesn't flip. (This past weekend I even saw a homemade trailer made out of a shopping cart.)
Poles: Get dipnet pole that breaks down into shorter sections. These poles tend to be more expensive than the long pole that is so common - but if you plan on biking in and out it makes for a fairly straightforward trip. B&J sells them - just tell them you want shorter poles and plan on biking in and they’ll hook you up.
Net: Be aware that the Kenai net is too big to carry on a bike. The bigger the net, the more fish you’ll catch. But the bigger the net the heavier it is and the harder it is to strap to a bike trailer. The key is to find a net that is big but one that you can still carry in your trailer.
Heading In: When loading your gear try to attach the poles to your bike frame and net(s) to your trailer. Whatever method you choose make sure everything is on tight. You’re headed in anywhere from 2 to 5 miles on a rocky trail so make sure it’s well secure or risk some serious road rash or worse.
Where to fish
I won’t tell you where to fish. About all I’ll say is keep going. Keep going till you find yourself a good perch where there is a pile of guts and blood and with enough patience and caffeine you’ll get your limit.
Although this doesn't necessarily have to do with bike netting it’s worth mentioning. The Copper is a turbulent river and if you fall in you're screwed. Thus consider some sort of rope / tie off system - especially if you plan on heading further into the canyon.
Tie off everything. Yourself. Your dipnet, your kid, your dog. We run a fixed line along the rocks where we’re fishing and then use it to hang off, clip the fish off onto and tie our dipnets off as well.
Hauling the fish
The biggest dilemma you’ll face is rather to take a cooler or not. Some people bike in a cooler with ice with the intention of staying out there for hours and then hauling out a ridiculously heavy load at the end of their day. My take is that hauling a full cooler of fish for miles is too much work. I carry a dry bag and opt to fillet the fish where I’m fishing and then to carry out the fillets in groups of 10 or so. However this all depends on the fishing. If the fishing is hot you could conceivably catch everything in a short time frame and then carry everything out in 1 or 2 trips. If the fishing is average you’ll have to carry out fewer fish every 3 or 4 hours. I tend to worry about spoilage so after bleeding the fish, I leave them in the water for a maximum of 3 hours. After 3 hours I fillet, rinse and drop them in a garbage bag. If it’s sunny and warm I tie the bag off in the water to keep it cool; if it’s cooler or at night I leave the bag on the rocks for another hour at most. I then haul the fish out in drybags in the bike trailer and get it back to the cooler and on ice within a maximum of 5 hours after catching the first one. So in short: (1) carry the fish out within 4 hours, (2) pack out the fish in a drybag or old backpack and (3) consider de-heading or filleting the fish to save weight on the bike out.
And that’s about it. Don’t except a good time and don’t listen to the “we got our 30 fish in 2 hours” hype. That never happens. More than likely you’ll find yourself curled up on the rocks at 2am trying to catch an hour or two of sleep after 14 hours of work before it's your turn to haul out the next batch.
Regardless... while biking in and out multiple times is hard work it’s good work and the fact is - you don’t need ATVs or a $100 charter drop off to get your fish. All you need is a bike, a $30 craigslist trailer and a friend, wife, girlfriend or kid to help carry loads. Don’t let Alaskan’s fixation with motors stop you from heading down there. Bike the road with your dipnet and come home tired, bloody, sore and with a cooler of fish.
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