Slow fishing, quick clean up
There can be a fair amount of things to grumble about for locals during the dipnetting season on the Kenai.
Traffic, lines at the store and all the other things that can easily provoke a sort of, "you kids quit pickin’ the apples" mentality. The mess of fish heads and fish guts on the beaches has, in the past, also been a source of some discontent. But over the past several years the city of Kenai has upped its effort to curb at least some of that.
I hitched a ride earlier this week with Jacob Hart in one of the city’s tractors used to rake the beach. For the past three summers, he’s picked up extra hours working beach cleanup duty for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“All I know is this is the hydraulics. This is our friend. This does nice work. The only time I get out of the cab is if I run into a big piece of wood or trash or something like that.”
He’s talking about the big rake attached to the back of the tractor, which is dropped in the sand and drug over the surface to pick up whatever the seagulls don’t want or haven’t gotten to.
“There’s a lot of fish heads down towards this end. This year they seem to be cleaning it up pretty good, which is kind of nice. Well, it’s nice, but it don’t give me anything to do.”
We slowly make our way up the north side toward the mouth of the river, dodging dipnetters hauling in coolers from the waterline and the makeshift cleaning stations that dot the beach. There’s some fish waste out here but it’s not in the giant piles that have made for so many great photos over the years.
“See, because what you’re looking for is a big, long line of them. There’ll be a big long line of fish heads and you get in that line and you rake it all out to the beach or you find a big pile of fish heads or guts and you rake it back down to the waterline.”
But the waste just isn’t there. A sockeye carcass here, a couple heads over there. On this night, the fishing is slow, making the cleanup pretty quick. After a couple passes, we make our way back. This is actually the only time Jacob dropped the rake all night, to clean up the entrance to the beach a bit.
"For some reason there's no fish heads ... . I'm so far ahead of it, there's nothing to do. This year I'm just really surprised. We're over halfway through the dipnet season and I really haven't raked once, just for the simple fact the fish aren't really in. They're just trickling in."
And the trickle continues. The latest counts showed no more than 30,000 fish on a given day over the past week, but whether the return hits a few hundred or a few hundred thousand at a time, Hart and dozens of others will be doing what they can to keep things clean.