by Sam Hess
(New York, NY)
View From the Bluff
We traveled to Alaska four times between 1999 and 2008. The first two trips were by cruise ship and they convinced us to drive up so we could see more of the state than just the area close to the shore. The other two trips involved pulling our trailer up the Alaska Highway.
Until our most recent trip in 2008, we never heard about dipnetting. Our stay in Kenai City was at the Beluga Lookout RV Park, located on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Kenai River. Unknown to us was that we arrived here during the narrow period of time when Alaska residents are permitted to use dipnets to catch salmon. After setting up the trailer on our site, we walked out to the head of the bluff to look at the river. All we could see were people lined up on both sides of the river. The cold damp wind was blowing off the water and these people were in it up to their chests. I thought they were crazy until I asked another person on the bluff what they were doing and why now. He explained that this was the time of year residents of Alaska were permitted to dipnet for salmon.
Earlier in the day we had been in Katmai National Park to view the brown bears trying to get their fill of salmon at Brooks Falls. The view on the beach had a resemblance to the view at the falls. The only difference is that the bears are replaced by people. Both have the same objectives, to catch enough salmon to last the winter. The bears had one advantage, they didn’t have to comply with the regulations.
As visitors we were not permitted to dipnet. While walking along the shore, I was approached by a young boy who asked what I assumed is a standard question on the beach, "how many did you catch?" I told him that I was not allowed to dipnet since I was not an Alaskan resident. His reply was telling, "bummer." Despite the fact that were not allowed to participate, it was a unique experience that we were glad we didn’t miss and will never forget.