Well... 2006 marks my 10th summer and 7th year in Alaska. I've spent many of summer climbing, hiking, rafting and finally rediscovered the joys of fishing. However - until Monday I had never been dipnetting.
Dipnetting refers to the harvesting method where you stick a huge net into the water and scoop out fish. You can dipnet for reds, pinks and silvers. You are only allowed to dipnet one king per year. We went for reds - the harvest limit being 40 reds per household. There were 5 of us - Myself, Scott Hauser, Rachael Steer (Scott's sister-in-law), Zach Steer (Scott's brother in law) and Jack - who works for Zach at Zach's lodge.
So we loaded up - Scott, Rachael and I first driving to Sheep Mountain Lodge (about 2 1/2 hours form Anchorage) where we met Zach and Jack (Zach is the owner). Then we drove the additional 2 hours to Chitina which is on the West side of the Copper River.
In Chitna we dumped the trucks along a dirt road and transferred everything to 4-wheelers. In Alaska any true bush adventure always involves some sort of hairball transportation. In our case it was a 4-wheeler, an oversized trailer and a bunch of heavy coolers full of the essential dipnetting supplies (ice, jackets, snacks and beer). ( Read more... )
The season is upon us so I thought I'd share some photos from our Chitina excursion last June. Spring 2007 runoff had caused a number of land slides and some people were saying the road past O'Brien was impassible; so unlike 2006 where I joined the Steers for a redneck 4WD extravaganza, getting back to the canyon via ATV was unlikely.
The spring landslides and the State of Alaska's decision not to repair the road had lead to a number of outcries from some of the public clamoring that the state was restricting their right to dipnet and that access was "denied to Alaskan's and their families" (insert rolling eyes emoticon here).
We thought about paying the $100 for a charter drop off, then decided that jet boats and ATVs suck so we loaded up the cars with bikes and dry bags and headed down.
We left town at 5am and by 11am were hiking and biking into the canyon. Todd and I rode mountain bikes, Yvonne and Lauren hiked. By noon we biked 5 miles into the canyon, scoped out a nice back eddy, anchored off with a rope and landed our first king. Thus began a 12 hour marathon of pain.
For the next 12 hours we worked hard. Our assembly line consisted of Todd and I landing fish, Lauren killing and hauling and Yvonne gutting. When we reached 10 fish we'd load up a dry bag and bike out (each back pack weighing around 50 lbs). Yvonne and Lauren took the first load at 2:30pm - each of them hauling a massive king and 3 reds. Todd took the second trip at 7:30 pm - hauling 12 reds. I took the third trip at 10pm - also hauling 12 reds. ( Read more... )
The season is upon us... so once again it's time to share photos of the only-in-Alaska tradition of dipnetting. We went to Chitina again; this time we were well prepared and showed up with bikes AND trailers, a campstove. And coffee.
However... for all the preparation dipnetting was once again a "world of pain". We had 2 bikes and 2 bike-trailers. Yvonne hiked, Todd and I biked. It took us 23 hours to get 50 reds and 2 kings; we each biked over 20 miles and each hauled over 100lbs. I took an early light run of 5 fish when the fishing was slow, Yvonne biked out one load of 16 fish when the fishing was hot and Todd took out a load of 17 when the fishing was hot. And finally, at 7 am we hauled everything that was left back to the car. It was brutal!
We began by biking in 5 miles and finding the same spot where we had good luck last year. We dropped our nets in the water and began the wait... And a long wait it was: we started fishing around 10am and at 11pm had only caught 10 fish between three people. It was slick (we were roped in), exposed and windy. We froze.
Finally I grew impatient and opted to go look for other fishing options. I hiked downriver and found the same ledge we had fished 3 years ago. I tentatively dropped my net in the water and within a minute I had a fish. 2 minutes later I had another fish. And 10 minutes after that a third! I waved to Todd and he and Yvonne moved our stuff over. ( Read more... )
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... ( Read more... )