As planned, last weekend we returned to the Kasilof for more dipnetting and our annual allotment of red salmon.  After the previous weekend’s disaster, we really tried to improve things this time around.  First off, Jeff confirmed that commercial fishing would cease Thursday morning, potentially allowing large numbers of fish to make the Kasilof, so unlike last weekend we wouldn’t be getting corked off again.  Second, we brought a keg, which lured in crowd of younger kids from the Peninsula that Max knew from his time working in Kenai the previous summer.  Thirdly we rolled down with larger numbers, although we’d lost the Pete, we added Mikey, Erin (just back from Minnesota) and Matt the Cook.  Dr Joe and Gerald joined later in the weekend to further bolster our numbers.  And finally, we didn’t get the car impounded in Cooper Landing.
South Beach of the Kasilof

South Beach of the Kasilof

 

    So late Friday night, Max, Jeff, Mikey and I pulled up to the beach on the south side of the Kasilof and called KJ, a local well known to Max.  KJ was apparently gathering firewood, assured us he’d arrive shortly, and we told him we could be found spinning dough nuts on the tidal mud flats.  After a couple spins KJ arrived with 3 cars and nearly 15 kids in tow, who immediately began asking where the keg was.  The keg, was in the back seat, so we quickly drove to a suitable location, pushed the keg out the door and began working on the fire.
    KJ had brought a massive pile of drift wood in his beach cruiser (a suburban chopped down to a pickup like shape behind the front doors which they used for their set netting operation) and was un-fazed by our questioning of his ability to get the water logged wood to burn, responding with claims of 10 gallons of gas on standby.  And so the night went on, a large group of us drinking Moose’s Tooth IPA around a pile of smoldering driftwood that KJ periodically doused with cups of gasoline in a strange attempt to create the beach’s most expensive bonfire.  Around 2 I began getting rather drunk, and by 3, with the tide rising, the temptation of the fish to be caught was overwhelming and I soon found myself standing chest deep in the river with my net in one hand and a beer in the other.
Jeffé is Ready!

Jeffé is Ready!

    The fishing started off very slow, but after thirty minutes or so everyone around me began catching fish, I however had no such luck.  I waited about an hour, and was beginning to think I may have gotten corked off by commercial drift nets once more, but I stuck with it.  Eventually Max and Mikey arrived, and as soon as Mikey entered the water he caught a fish, making a joke out of my early drunken start.  The two of them came stocked with booze though, so any disappointment with the lack of fish was washed away.  The fishing began to pick up, people around us had begun to catch fish at a decent rate, but still Max and I had been shut out.  Max, at this point looked outrageously drunk, he had his net planted in the tidal mud and was propping himself up against it, from time to time his head would drop violently (like he’d just blacked out) and I’d watch as he’d look up, gather his senses and steady himself against the net.  I was keeping an eye on him, to make sure that if he blacked out for good and fell into the water he wouldn’t get swept into Cook Inlet.  
Mt Redoubt at 3 a.m.

Mt Redoubt at 3 a.m.

    The moment I began to be preoccupied by the potential rescue of a drowning Max (could I have scooped him up in my net and dragged him ashore?) a fish slammed my net and I plowed through the chest deep water towards the shore, determined not to lose what at the time was a very precious fish.  As soon as I was ashore and began disentangling the fish from my net, a guy with a beard and Old English 800 hat, who I hadn’t met previously, ran up to me with a bottle of Jim Beam.  He claimed to have been watching me go fish-less for the last hour or so and said I needed I drink, I concurred and took a huge swig from the bottle. 
    It wasn’t long after I had returned to the water that Jeff arrived, straight from his drunken cat nap, and the fish began to charge up the river.  Everyone, including ourselves was soon running in and out of the river, and the piles of fish on shore were visibly growing by the minute.  One Japanese man, with an extremely long (15-20 feet?) pole on his net was catching nearly a fish a minute, and a small native women standing behind us also seemed to have incredible luck, and caught her 25 fish limit in under 30 minutes.  Each time I ran ashore with a fish thrashing and entangling itself in my net the bearded fellow with the Jim Beam would arrive and I’d take another big swig.   
the scene

the scene

    So with the Jim Beam and fish coming at me quick I decided to get ambitious and use my wet suit to its full potential by swimming out into the river, netting a fish and attempting to swim to shore before the fish managed to squirm it’s way free.  And although I lost more fish then If I’d been standing on firm ground; the looks I’d receive as I floated past people’s nets or frantically swam towards shore with one arm was worth any loss of fresh meat.  Once, just as I reached shallow water and was begging to run ashore I got a devestating calf cramp, began thrashing in the water (like the fish lodged in my net), and then started puking from the steady flow of Jim Beam I’d been drinking after each fish.  When I finally gathered myself I noticed the fish had escaped, but any disappointment was made up for by the comedy of watching my florescent vomit floating through the legs of stunned onlookers in the outgoing tide.    

    We exited the water around 8 that morning, each of us pissing drunk and in possession of a hearty pile of dead fish.  I was so gone by that point that I’d given up fishing entirely, and had begun swimming underwater and purposely getting myself caught in other people’s nets.  As we walked back to the camp the drunks distributing free whiskey upon the capture of each fish joined us hoping to score some free keg beer.  I passed out after a bit, and apparently so did everyone else.

Shark Fin on the Beach

Shark Fin on the Beach

    When I woke up, Mikey informed me of the latest catastrophe.  While we’d all slept, someone had made off with our Keg.  The fact that all 8 of us had been sleeping within 50 feet of the keg hadn’t deterred the brazen calculated thieves from stealing our precious IPA.  Faced with the possibility of a beer-less afternoon, Mikey quickly fired up Max’s Tahoe and drove off for a Soldotna Liquor Store as I combed the beach for the thieves, originally suspecting the whiskey wielding drunks, only to find them passed out in their own camp, also keg-less.  As everyone else slowly roused themselves to the frightening possibility of alcohol free camping, Matt and Erin stepped into the water in hope of more fish.  My head was splitting at this point, and I spent those early afternoon hours complaining to Jeff about his failure to bring Dude (his dog) who surely would have barked and informed us that our keg was being jacked by thieves.  The afternoon progressed at a glacial pace, Mikey returned with both beer and sandwiches, Gerald (Max’s flight instructor) arrived with his model airplane, easing our hangovers with some crazy flying, before Matt’s friend eventually arrived with a boat.
    Launching the boat off the beach proved more difficult then planned, the truck towing the boat got bogged down in the sand and we were forced to push the trailer into the water by hand, but once on afloat Max, Erin, Matt and the ships captan (sorry I forgot your name, Paul maybe?) began drifting up and down the river while plucking fish with their dip nets.  The fishing seemed slow from the shore, but with the boat out in deeper water they were able to harvest a healthy number.
Boat netting

Boat netting

    At some point I decided to nap, and woke up a few hours later to help in the filleting and cleaning of the most recent catch, before we all settled down to solve our current issues, hunger and sobriety.  Max had brought along a massive collection of potato chips (7 varieties in all) and Matt had brought along a massive Rib Eye roast he’d acquired due to some hotel’s incompetence and the generosity of the APU kitchen, of which he’s in charge.  Despite the massive number of fish in our possession, grilling a filet or two was never mentioned and we focused on the delicious steaks and spicy goodness of Tim’s potato chips.  Someone ran to the store and bought a couple more cases of beer, and the night descended into the usual routine of drunkenly staring at the fire.
Meat

Meat

    The plan was to fish Sunday morning before heading back to Anchorage for the inevitable final cleaning and vacuum packing of our delicious bounty, hopefully filling the freezer for the winter to come.  Max called Dr Joe, who was on his way to Anchorage from Seward and tried to convince him to meet us on the south bank of the Kasilof with his boat.  Dr Joe, a legendary fishing enthusiast, needed little convincing, and it wasn’t long before he was spotted rallying down the beach just above the water.
    Everyone was pretty exhausted, and with Sunday’s high tide coming at 8 the next morning, the plan was to get a little sleep and start fishing from the boat the next day around 6 a.m.   Jeff and I realised that if either of us went to sleep, there wasn’t a chance we’d be waking at 6 and instead decided to spend the night boozing it around the fire, and maybe start dip netting from shore in an attempt to stay occupied and awake straight through the night.  So everyone else settled into bed, while Jeff and I began getting wasted.
Cooking Steak on Burning Chairs, Bottles and a Soccer Ball

Cooking Steak on Burning Chairs, Bottles and a Soccer Ball

    It wasn’t long before we’d run out of fire wood, and began burning anything we could find.  Cardboard beer boxes, a broken camping chair, glass bottles and a popped soccer ball all found there way into the fire.  The steady flow of cheap beer did little to quell our hunger, so despite the less then appetizing black oily smoke rising from the fire we tossed a couple more rib eyes on the flames and continued to gorge ourselves on the wonderful meat Matt provided.   Throughout the night Jeff and I continued to check on the fishing, and each time it seemed pretty slow.  That being said it wasn’t long before we both succumbed to exhaustion and passed out.  When I awoke, Joe, Max, and Matt the cook were pacing up and down the river pulling in a steady stream of fish.
    Later that morning, running dangerously low on gas Joe beached the boat, and we all began cleaning and filleting the latest batch of fish.  All in all we’d caught well over 70 fish throughout the weekend, a decent catch that would provide all of us with much needed food for the coming winter.  As we packed up, my thoughts slowly turned to my coming trip to Michigan (where I am now) and I realized another summer’s dip netting season had come to a successful finish.  Bring on the winter!!
Advertisements