By Joseph Robertia
Alan Dyekman, of Kenai, was excited to pull in his set gillnet. Camped just south of the Kasilof River to take part in the personal-use fishery last week, he had eagerly been watching the floating cork line of his net sag, a sure sign that, below the water’s surface, numerous marine creatures were being caught.
He had hoped for sockeye salmon, but as he began to pull in his first catch of the year last Wednesday, he was disappointed to see that the long, wiggling bodies bound up in the mesh were not his targeted species.
“I pulled in a net full of sharks,” he said. “It was pretty disappointing. I’ve
been doing this for seven years now and never caught a single one ’til now.”
And it was more than one of the toothy, net-tangling creatures that he hauled to shore. Dyekman had 15 of the sharks, technically known as spiny dogfish.
“No one else on either side of me got one, so it must have been a school of them,” he said.
Dogfish are known to form small schools, and while edible — and even sold as the “fish” in fish and chips baskets in England — these sharks are not as easy to prepare as salmon. In addition to gutting and skinning, they must also be marinated in a weak vinegar or citric solution of lemon or orange juice to neutralize the urea, and can give off an unpleasant odor when cooked without being treated.
“I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with them,” Dyekman said. “I threw
back the live ones, but the ones that were already dead I have to keep.”
While Dyekman thought he had it bad, Harry Miller, of Cohoe, had an even odder by-catch a few days into the personal-use fishery. Wetting a net almost in the mouth of the river, he saw a seal get tangled in his gear. Fearing the worst, he and his fishing party quickly began hauling the net to shore, but he said it seemed like the marine mammal wasn’t nearly as concerned as they were.
“He was just eating our salmon the whole time we were pulling him in. He never stopped,” Miller said.
As they got the animal to shore, they were preparing to call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, since they had never had such a situation and weren’t sure what was safe and legal to do. But as they gave the lines a little slack, the seal rolled itself out of the net and slipped back into the salty water.
While a few fishermen were having weird luck, first-time personal-use
fisherman Mike Ellis, of Two Rivers, was having a banner year. He made the trip down to the Kasilof to fish with some friends who participate in set gillnetting each year. As a rookie, he said he just hoped to go home with enough fish to break even on the gas money he spent to get to the river.
“This fishery isn’t something you can just pick up and do. There’s a lot of gear and you have to understand how to use all the lines and pulleys, so I came to watch and learn,” he said.
After four days of fishing it was more than just knowledge he was bringing back up north. He and his party netted more than 125 sockeye and a whopping four king salmon, the smallest of which weighed 25 pounds, the largest weighing close to 45 pounds.
“I think I’m getting a false sense of how this fishery typically goes,” he said. “My friends told me that in several years of fishing here annually, they’ve never had a king in their net and rarely see one show up in anyone else’s.”
Ellis said he wasn’t sure why they had caught so many of the coveted salmon species, if it was just a good return of kings to the Kasilof — since two of his kings were wild and two were hatchery produced — or if it was just that, as his party believed, he was experiencing beginners luck.
“My friends are calling me the king whisperer,” he said. “And they told me I have to come back every year now.”