By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter
The Kenai River dip-net fishery annually nets its share of stories along with the salmon. Some are tales of travelers who came down from Anchorage hoping for huge hauls but leaving with a cooler nearly as empty as when they came. Others are action-packed accounts of “You should have been there” days when every dip of the net brought up two or three fish at a time.
But there also are the reports that are just plain weird, and when it comes to swapping stories of the serendipitous from the 2014 dip-net season, Kenai resident Kyle “The Ferg” Ferguson has a doozey to tell.
It starts in the way the best stories do:
“It sounds unbelievable, but it’s all true,” he said.
It happened over the weekend of July 19 and 20, when a strong surge of late-run sockeye entered the Kenai River, and a simultaneous horde of fishermen came with nets in hand to land as many of the sea-bright sockeye as they could.
“It was a rough day in the water,” Ferguson said, recounting taking a flossing in the nearly neck-deep brine on the north side of the river mouth, clinging to his dip net with white knuckles to hold on in the strong outgoing tidal current.
It was “combat fishing” at its finest, or worst, depending on how one perceives standing nearly shoulder to shoulder with other hopeful fishermen.
“Waves were rolling in and breaking over us. It was really something,” he said.
Ferguson was doing his best to keep his head above water and his mental faculties sharp amid the draining chill of the water, when sudden call of distress next to him signified that all was not right with the neighboring angler. Through pursed lips the man explained the last breaker to roll over them had knocked his dentures clean out of his mouth.
“He was asking for help and I and the other guys around him did our best to see if we saw them. We felt bad, but there really wasn’t a lot we could for him,” Ferguson said.
Discomfort alone was reason to frantically search the water, not to mention that new dentures can cost more than $1,000. But the man eventually began to lose hope, stating, “There will be a seagull out there somewhere with a nice smile,” Ferguson said.
Having had enough battering himself for one day, Ferguson called it quits, but with room still on his permit and in his freezer, he went back the next day. A few hours and fish later, he waded back to shore to his wife, Lisa, and some family friends, Gary and Kim Morgan, who were having a good laugh over a sandcastle some children built at low tide.
He was cold, wet and tired, but also curious, so he capitulated to his wife’s request to go look.
“We walked up and at the top of this castle, like a crown at the highest point, were sitting dentures,” he said.
Ferguson couldn’t believe his eyes and related the events from the day before. Even more unbelievable — among the hundreds of people on the shore that day, he remembered seeing the man who lost the dentures out in the water again that day.
“I went out and found the guy and told him what we saw on shore so he could go get them,” Ferguson said, which is precisely what the man did.
While many fishermen will look back on the 2014 season and recall the hauls of meat they put away for the winter, Ferguson will remember the denture dilemma at the mouth of the Kenai as a tale to best tell with a smile on his face.