February 1, 2023

Finally: A Small Reward for Someone Who Has Earned It!

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By George Dovel

*Editor’s Note* – The following article is being republished here with permission from the author.


Author has just netted one of many sockeye salmon caught by his wife using an artificial fly on stretches of Alaska’s Kenai River in July.

When I began researching, writing and publishing this non-commercial version of The Outdoorsman nine years ago, it required my full time. Some months there are enough donations to exceed expenses, but trying to increase circulation and send complimentary copies to an ever increasing list of elected officials soon used up our limited savings forcing us to seek additional income.

For a couple of years, both of us worked for wages in traffic control maintenance on road construction jobs until all the work became part-time. For the past five years my wife has had to work for a north Idaho company at remote locations on the Salmon River to get a living wage.

Patti is an ardent and skilled hunter and angler who out-fishes me. She will spend hours catching salmon or steelhead, or trout, bass or even crappie and perch when others, including me, have given up.

We visited her cousins in Alaska several times and brought home frozen red salmon and halibut, but recently we realized we hadn’t done that for seven years. As her responsibilities have increased at work she has had less time for fishing, especially during the past two years.

Because she was required to be available 24/7 at her last job location, we saw each other only 3 or 4 days a month or less, and communicated by phone or email. When she mentioned how much she would enjoy visiting her cousins and catching some fish for a change, I insisted she book the flight immediately if it worked out for them.

I spent time in the North Country years ago, including visiting a son who lived and caught halibut in SE Alaska, and I always enjoy being around people who still “tell it like it is.” But when we landed in Alaska in July her cousins’ boat was being repaired and the sockeye were late so Patti was getting anxious when the run finally started.

The commercial fishermen and their nets block off the entire river for several days at a time but eventually the bite is on for sport fishing and it resembles combat fishing in Idaho in the more popular locations. Younger friends from the Garden Valley area in Idaho joined us a week later and they had a knack for exploring and finding remote fishing spots where there were few or no other fishermen.

Readers who haven’t fished for sockeye may not be aware that they will “mouth” a fly or yarn or even a bare hook in shallow water, but they don’t swallow it as their normal ocean food consists of small crustaceans, plankton, squid and a few small fish (per many sources).

The fisherman needs to flip the fly with a small amount of line in front of him repeatedly, feel for the bite as a pinch-sinker or split shot skips along the bottom, and set the hook fast when the line stops moving or the bite is felt. These fish, fresh from the ocean, often go airborne and shake the hook – especially if they’re given any slack.

Most sockeye fishermen there use fairly stiff fly rods but our friends from Garden Valley feel they can detect a light “mouthing” or “bite” better with a favorite bait casting rod, reel and line combination.
We were fishing in Cook Inlet in the Kenai where each household of residents is allowed to net 25 red (sockeye) salmon for the “Personal Use” permit holder, plus 10 more for each additional household member. Patti and I took advantage of our cousins’ offer to go dip netting with them, but as non-residents we could not legally net the fish or steer the boat.


Patti’s Cousin Dale and his daughter, Brandi, operating dip nets at the mouth of the Kenai River, were entitled to net 90 total red salmon free of charge based on their family sizes.


Patti displays two of the sockeye netted by her cousins four days earlier. Note both tips of each tail fin clipped and 4-foot diameter net used on each side of boat. The T-handles in upper photo allow the netter to quickly rotate the net 90-degrees to keep from losing the fish as it is hoisted up into the boat.

Similar “Personal Use” fishing with no charge is allowed to residents in many Alaska locations for finfish or shellfish, using gill or dip net, seine, fish wheel, long line or other means defined by the Board of Fisheries.

The only opportunity we had on this trip to catch halibut happened on a choppy day with swells high enough to make it very bumpy with water pouring over the cabin. Patti quickly caught her two halibut while the rest of us caught mostly an assortment of other bottom feeders. Despite the rough ride both ways, we enjoyed the fishing and watching an acrobatic whale show off.

Our friends from Garden Valley went out for halibut in a larger boat the day we left and all seven fishermen limited out. But the consensus among the few boat operators we talked with was that the halibut they catch are running smaller than they were a few years ago.

While driving to and from fishing, we saw two small bunches of caribou plus a number of moose, including the following young bull Patti photographed on the day we arrived:


We saw two cow moose with twin calves, and Patti’s cousin Deanna took this photo of a nearly white cow moose with twin calves a month before we arrived.


Patti and I thoroughly enjoyed our Alaska trip, the good fishing and the good companions. We also enjoyed the boxes of frozen sockeye filets and frozen halibut we brought back as baggage. The trip and article are a tribute to my wife for all the physical hardships and deprivation she has endured to keep this newsletter coming to readers.

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