Dipnetting: When Winter Survival Literally Depends On Your Catch

When the Alaskan Sockeye Salmon begin to enter the Kenai River to head to their spawning grounds, everyone in Alaska is ready. It means that Alaskan residents will have between ten and fourteen days to catch as many fish as they can in order to stock their households with food for the frigid dark months of winter.  

Dipnetting is a form of fishing in which only Alaskan residents are allowed to partake. It requires standing waist-high in the river for up to hours on end, barely moving while holding a long pole with a circular net attached to the end of it. The idea is that when the salmon swim past with the intent to go up-river to spawn, they’ll swim directly into the net and viturally catch themselves.


During this time of year, the banks of the Kenai River become more like a small city. Tents are set up, cars are parked on the beach, family members enjoy cold drinks out of a cooler while playing music from a boombox resting on the back of their truck, and children play in jungle-gyms that have been built to keep them busy. The entire scene seems hectic at first, but even though the dipnet season is limited to a mere two weeks, there doesn’t seem to be much of a rush between the locals.

Once some salmon are caught, the fish are brought directly to the beach where family members have set up tables for filleting. Everything is done at the river and the fish are filleted as soon as they are caught to ensure the freshest catch. The beautiful fillets are then dropped into a plastic bag and a cooler, and the carcass is thrown into the sand for the seagulls to pick at for the rest of the day, or back into the river for the bears to find far down-river.

Here, an Alaskan child doesn’t mind keeping busy by kicking around in the sand, even in the middle of a salmon graveyard left on the beach. At such a young age, fishing is probably already a part of everyday life.

When the fish are caught, filetted, and packaged up in the coolers, Alaskan families will then return home for the evening where they will begin to store the fish for the winter season. The salmon will be canned, frozen, smoked, or pickled, and will provide a majority of the family’s food source for the winter. But if they didn’t catch enough the first day, they’ll return everyday that the salmon are running until their limit of  25 fish per head of household and an additional 10 fish per family member is attained. 

The way of life for an Alaskan local is truly something else. The dipnetting scene at the mouth of the Kenai River is a must-see to anyone planning a trip to Kenai Alaska.


Author: Nathan Bush Wedding Photography

Nathan Bush is an avid traveler, adventurer, and professional wedding and landscape photographer. His absolute favorite pastime is hiking all the while lugging his camera equipment into the backcountry in order to capture beautiful images of the wild. He currently lives in Colorado with his soon to be wife, Florence.

3 thoughts on “Dipnetting: When Winter Survival Literally Depends On Your Catch”

  1. Wow, there must be a lot of salmon around there! It makes me a little sad for the salmon, but at the same time, mmmmmmm….. I’m sure I’d be a vegetarian if meat weren’t so dang delicious.

    1. YES! Absolutely lots of salmon there. I actually meant to put this in, but when I went there in 2010 there was a record breaking day of 88,000 fish that entered the river in a single day (they are counted by laser counters at a certain point in the river). This past summer, that previous record was smashed with a day where over 200,000 fish made their way into the river to spawn.

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