Kenai Peninsula: The art of combat fishing

Road Journals Blog—If you visit Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula in the summer months, don’t expect many long and involved conversations with locals unless you’re willing to talk salmon. When I was there, it seemed like every person I ran into was planning a fishing trip, recovering from a fishing trip, or mentally fishing even when they were talking to me about something else.

Combat fishing on the Kenai | Dave Bezaire/Flickr

A hundred yards from the biggest parking lot in downtown Anchorage, guys in business suits fish for sockeyes in Ship Creek during their lunch breaks. When the fish are really running, anglers stand practically shoulder to shoulder—combat fishing, as the locals call it.

Alaska residents also fish for salmon with dipnets—big hooped nets on poles at least six feet long. The strategy is simple: Stick the net in the water and wait for something big and wriggly. Out-of-state visitors are limited to fishing with standard rods, but they can watch the dipnet action; the mouth of the Kenai River near Soldotna is a popular spot.

Even the bridges in Anchorage are geared toward fishing. | David Weekly/Flickr

Everyone seems to know the latest news on the runs—when they started, where the fish have been spotted, and, most of all, how the runs compare to previous years. Lately, the comparisons haven’t been good. Last year was especially anemic. The state completely closed the Kenai River to king salmon fishing for the entire month of June, an emergency moved inspired by a pitiful return of fish. The sockeye numbers were also far below average.

Nobody knows exactly what’s causing the decline, although it’s likely a complicated mix of habitat loss, dwindling food supplies, fishing pressure, and climate change.

If things don’t turn around soon, Alaskans might eventually have to find something else to talk about.

This blog post was first published in July 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.