Dipnet fishing seems simple -- after all, it's just holding a net in the water and waiting -- but there are a number of things dippers need to keep in mind before heading to the Kenai River, which opens for personal-use sockeye fishing 6 a.m. Friday.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, courtesy of the City of Kenai and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:
• Alaskans only. Dipnet permits are free to the head of household, with the only requirement being a valid fishing license or harvest card. (If the head of household isn't fishing, someone in the family needs to bring it.) Each person gets 25 sockeye, plus 10 more for each additional person in the household. Permits can be obtained at local vendors or online at adfg.alaska.gov. Non-Alaskans may not participate in the fishery in any way.
• Clip those fins! Both lobes of the tail must be removed from each fish before concealing it from view.
• Record your catch. Each fish must be recorded on a valid permit before leaving the fishing grounds. This means before fish are removed from any area open to dipnetting.
• Keep it clean. Fish must either be removed from the beach whole or cleaned near the water with carcasses discarded into either the Kenai River or Cook Inlet. Fish waste may not be tossed into dumpsters.
• Cash or credit? The City of Kenai has credit card readers at all three fee station locations (north beach, south beach and city dock). Fees range from $20 for day use parking to $55 for overnight parking. More information can be found at the fishery sites or online at www.ci.kenai.ak.us.
• Time the tides. The city boat launch is closed during tides lower than 1 foot. This year, closures are expected the mornings of July 11-16 and July 28-30, as well as the afternoons of July 17-21 and July 30-31. Expect delays during these times and plan accordingly to avoid long lines.
• Don't do the dunes. Sand dunes are a fragile part of the Kenai's estuarine habitat, and the high bluffs near the north beach are prone to erosion. Stay off both or risk a ticket from an enforcement officer or a scolding from a local.
• Safety first. Every year the Kenai Police Department and Kenai Fire Department respond to calls concerning dipnetters in trouble. People have been swept away in the current and boats have capsized. Wear proper safety equipment (life jacket) when operating a boat or wading in the cold waters at the mouth of the Kenai.
• Watch for signs. Camping and fires on Kenai beaches are only allowed in designated areas. Signs clearly mark these areas. Expect to be contacted by an enforcement officer if the rules aren't followed.
• Patience pays. Although more than a million sockeye are likely to pour into the mouth of the Kenai, they won't all come at once. Salmon runs are fickle, and a hot fishing spot one day might be a skunk hole the next. Kenai city manager Rick Koch said patience is a virtue in dipnetting. "Be patient and have fun," Koch said. "The biggest rule is for people to have a good time and stay safe."
• Know your fish. King salmon may not be retained in the personal use fishery, and it's imperative that dipnetters know what they're catching. Fish and Game biologist Jason Pawluk said many people can't tell the difference between a sockeye and a king. "Not everything that hits your net is going to be a sockeye," he said. Kings have black spots on their back and tail; sockeye don't. Kings also have a black mouth. Be on the lookout for Dolly Varden, rainbow trout and other species of salmon.