By Jenny Neyman
After a couple 16-hour days in a row trying to keep up with the sea of sockeye salmon pouring into Custom Seafood Processors, in Soldotna, brought by dip-netters and sportfishermen hauling them from the massive runs surging into the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, Coy Kirby said he could fillet fish with his eyes closed.
In a way, he has been.
“You work 16-hour days, then you go to sleep and you dream about filleting fish. You wake up and you’re filleting your girlfriend’s pillow,” said Kirby, 23, of Soldotna.
Next to him on the line Friday, deftly slicking his knife along each side of a salmon spine, peeling red flesh from white bone and silver carcass, was Zach Oakley, 20, of Soldotna. He’s also been feeling the effects of the recent swell of salmon.
“You have some weird dreams,” he said. “I had a dream last night that I was putting all my stuff in bags — my wallet and socks and all my random things — and vacuum sealing it,” Oakley said.
The sea has bestowed an unexpected bounty upon Cook Inlet — a bumper sockeye run to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers — surprising in both the amount of fish and their early arrival. Usually, the Kenai sockeye run hits its peak the last week of July. This year, however, the sockeye counter in the Kenai River clocked a record-breaking 230,643 on July 17, followed by another whopping 177,000-plus on July 18.
That wave of sockeyes has drawn a rising tide of fishing effort, especially as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has liberalized opportunities — extra openings for commercial drift- and set-netters, 24-hour personal-use dip-netting, and increased bag limits for sport anglers. Continue reading