The drive from Seward to Soldotna took us from the sea coast to the interior of the Kenai Peninsula. The mountains and glaciers gave way to flat land mostly covered by forest. At times the forest was lush, but there were patches of stunted and twisted pines that indicated that permafrost might be underneath. During much of the year this area doesn’t have much to offer a tourist; the towns are an ugly conglomeration of strip malls and fast food franchises facing wide highways. But in the summer this part of the Kenai is teaming with people because its streams are teaming with fish.
Not just any old fish. The largest sport caught king salmon in the world weighing almost 100 pounds was caught in the Kenai River. Here huge king salmon are common and have enough muscle to give a fisherman a real battle. But during this time of year the salmon are coming up river to spawn and Alaska residents gather at the mouth of the river and along its banks with large dip nets and catch their legal limit: 25 fish for head of household, and 10 for additional family members. We talked to one man fishing for three families, who netted 125 salmon yesterday. It’s a lot of work standing in that icy water holding a huge net. Each time a salmon swims into the net, you have to take it back to shore. So this man waded in and out of the water 125 times, dragging a ten pound fish to shore each time. After the fish are caught they are cleaned on the spot. The heads, viscera and tails are removed and filets and the meat remaining is iced. The sandy beach was full of discarded fish parts. There was so much to eat the local gulls couldn’t get to it all.
People come to the mouth of the Kenai and camp until they have caught their limit. The water was full of netters, but everyone seemed to be finding success. The king are running so well this year they are allowing people to fish 24/7 during the three week season in July.
We are camped in the parking lot of the Fred Meyer, the grocery chain of Alaska. The Fred Meyer has a popular sewer dump which services folks like us as well as the dip net fishermen who leave the beach to refresh themselves. The parking lots was as full of RV’s milling around as the river was with fishermen. Fred allows us to camp here for three days for free. The price is right, but one night will be enough.