This set of photos shows an event that we were privileged to see while in the Kenai Peninsula. We had planned to stay at a local "Walmart-like” store, Alaska’s Fred Meyer in Soldotna, about 210 km (130 miles) southwest of Anchorage. We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and the parking lot was jammed to overflowing with pickups, vans, boats, cars with utility trailers with also sorts of gear on them, in addition to all types of rental and owned RVs of every type. Not only was the complete exterior of the lot jammed, the car parking spots were almost all full. This chain encourages overnighting with the 24 hour fuel service, shopping, free water and RV waste dumping. However the numerous other vehicles highlighted another reason: The salmon were running and the "Dip Netting” Season was open. We’d checked out all local campgrounds (all over full) and other stores and vacant lots and we were refused for various reasons. Since I had to go to the local post office, I parked our RV, disconnected the car and drove to it. On my return, I stopped at a local church to ask if we could stay there. They said most definitely! So the church was our haven while in Soldotna and as you can see their sign said it all. (Slide 1) We had a great conversation with the Pastor and a number of members, who were enjoying a weekly dinner that night to which we were invited. We made a donation and had great accommodation on their lot for 3 days.
Alaskan residents, with a valid fishing license, can catch up to 60 salmon using long handled Dip Nets (more later) during the Salmon run that this year ran July 10thto July 31st. All non-residents can watch, or fish with a rod and reel. This fishing takes place at the mouth of the Kenai River in the Town of Kenai and works its way upriver as the salmon move. There are 4 types of salmon and each has their own run peak time. We hit the area just as the popular Red Sockeye salmon were running at their peak. Suffice it is to say that 30,000 to 60,000 fish pass a counting station per day! With free fish, and a long winter, the Alaskan residents from all over the State spend a long weekend to a week or two, fishing. As you can see in Slides 2 and 4, they don hip waders and wander into the water to catch salmon in 1.5m (5 foot) diameter fish nets with long handles on them. This really is a family event with all ages represented; women and men fishing side by side. Foam coolers are filled with the ice and fish they’ve caught and some actually filet the fish in special areas right by the beach. (Slide 5). All this is taking place within sight of one of four active Volcanoes (one of which, Mount Redoubt is shown in Slide 3, overlooks the beach). It is completely ignored even though it erupted in March, 2009. In slides 6 & 7 you can see the results of their efforts. A close look shows the parking on one side of the beach. Slide 9 shows a very full campground that charges about $45-60 per night for parking with 2 to 3 services.
Driving in the area at this time of year, it is quite common to see cars and SUV’s with extended hitch mounted carriers with coolers attached to them. Others are on the roof racks of SUV’s together with nets on top of that. We’ve even seen RVs with these nets draped over the roof air conditioners and tied down. It is a huge activity at this time of year. I talked with a local Indian Native while filling our propane tank and asked if he was going fishing when he finished work. He said he was, but not Dip Netting – his response says it all: "It is a LOT of work! Those nets are heavy to use and it gets tiring out there. When you catch the 60 you are allowed, it takes a good 6 hours to filet them if you are skilled. Then if you want them smoked, that takes another 10 to 12 days – as I said, it is a LOT of work!” With that said, he was taking his fishing rod and going fishing after work!
It is said that many families would not make it through the long winter if it was not for the salmon that they catch during the salmon run. From our viewing area at the edge of the beach, it did not matter in which area of the beach you looked some fisherman was dealing with a salmon in their net. Kids were playing (this is part of their summer vacation) and many men and women that were not fishing were pulling or pushing the coolers up the hill to their vehicles. It was a family event.
So as you can see the salmon run is a big event and no wonder we could not get a parking space while at the epicenter of the fishing.