Kuskokwim Fishermen Turn To Dipnets To Keep Fishing Through Gillnet Closures

Jul 21, 2017

Yukon fisherman Felix Patrick pulls a chum out of the Yukon with a Kenai style dip net.
Credit Kyle Claton / KYUK

While many Kuskokwim fishermen voiced frustration with only a few gillnet openings this summer, other fishermen used dipnets to keep fishing through the closures. Two dipnetters called into KYUK’s weekly fish talk show to share tips that they’ve learned this season.

Allen Joseph began dipnetting near Bethel a few years ago. When he started, it wasn’t going well.

“It was disappointing 'cause I was catching nothing, except maybe two whitefish,” he said.

Joseph was so discouraged that last year that he didn’t touch his dipnet. But this summer he decided to give it another try, so he called up some good friends on the Yukon.

“They suggested dipnetting along sandbars or shorelines and that fish like to run next to them.”

For years, Yukon fishermen have been restricted to dipnets to conserve king salmon. The salmon can then be released alive and healthy, unlike fish caught in gillnets. With all this practice, the Yukon fishermen have become savvy with their nets.

“And you know what?" said Joseph, "I had really good results. I got a lot of salmon.”

The key, Joseph says, is fishing when there are lots of fish in the water. Joseph watched the numbers from the Bethel Test Fishery to know when to go out. When red and chum numbers jumped, so did Joseph.

“I think the most I’ve gotten, so far, is about 50 salmon in two days, keeping only the red salmon and letting the chums go,” he recounted.

Throughout the summer Joseph kept improving, sometimes catching two or three fish at once, and he developed some savvy tricks of his own.

“I use a stick or screwdriver in the oar lock to support the net in the current,” said Joseph.

The mouth of his net faces downstream to intercept the fish moving upstream. Fishing, he says, is best during the incoming tide, but works in eddies during the outgoing tide.

“And I found it’s easier to dipnet from a stationary boat, so I just park along shore or anchor in water near the bank, about 20 to 40 feet from the bank.”

It’s a little more effort than gillnets, but the quality of the meat is better. Joseph’s fish are fresh, feisty, and flopping on the boat with no bruises or net marks.

And his favorite part about dipnets: he doesn’t have to wait for openings. Joseph just waits for the fish.

Another dipnetter called into the show to share how he’d built his own dipnet for about $50. That’s way less than a new dipnet from a store, which can run up to hundreds of dollars. The caller used electrical metal tubing for the frame. That’s the metal tubing that holds electrical wires in buildings. For the net, he bought a replacement. Exact dimensions can be found on the state Fish and Game Department website.