Fish Bonkers and Other Fun Stuff

Warning: If you prefer your protein with a white, Styrofoam backing, don’t read this post.

I had a truly Alaskan adventure this weekend, y’all.  I was invited to go dipnetting, and go dipnetting I did!  And it was probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.

I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if you had no idea what I’m talking about because before I moved to Alaska, I had never heard of it.  Dipnetting is a form of subsistence fishing, open only to Alaska residents for a very short season each year, and it involves standing in the cold waters of the confluence of certain rivers and the Cook Inlet, wielding a 5ft-in-diameter net with an 8ft handle, and waiting for salmon to swim themselves into it (more on that in a minute).  You process what you catch, report your numbers to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and fill your freezer for the year if you’re lucky.  It is cold, dirty, sometimes boring work, and it’s a blast.

So, the backstory:  My friend you’ve heard me refer to as Lechuga received an invitation to tag along with some of her friends on their dipnetting expedition, and they extended that invitation to whomever she might want to bring with her.  That’s how I found myself trying on waders and diving into an unknown world, albeit one I had wanted to check out ever since moving up here.  I could write a book about this adventure, but let me just share the highlights:

1. This whole thing is a PRODUCTION.  People camp on the beach, surrounded by their 4-wheelers, processing tables, nets, coolers, boats, and tents.  The general air is one of camaraderie – no tourists in this group means everyone is there for a common purpose.  There’s no “combat fishing” or territorial squabbling; in fact, when you net a salmon, the people around you usually cheer or shout, “Nice job!”  (Or, if you’re really lucky, the tough Alaska guy next to you will start belting out “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid!  True story!)  You’ll see whole families in the water together.  Old, young, male, female, everyone is wrangling their own nets and having a great time doing it.

2. Facilities include gross Porta-Potties and the woods on the bluffs above the beach.  In both places, it is extremely important to keep track of your wader straps.  Don’t ask me how I know this.

3.  You’re standing where the river empties into the Cook Inlet because salmon start out in the ocean and swim upriver to spawn.  The water temp this time of year is generally between 50 and 54 degrees, so you’d better have some warm layers on underneath your waders, and you should know that you will be sweaty and disgusting when you finally peel them off.  Oh, and for some weird reason, your legs will be pretty much shrink-wrapped in those waders when you’re submerged.  I don’t know why, but all the air suctions out of them, and you start to understand how the filets are going to feel later.

4.  You will be in that water for long stretches of time where nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, fish start running into the nets, and you give a whoop and turn your net on its side to trap the fish, while running backwards through the water to the shore, which is probably at a pretty steep incline.  It’s an adrenaline rush and a great workout all at once.

5.  Then, on shore, you take a piece of wood or a club known as a “fish bonker,” and, well, you bonk the fish on its scaly little noggin.  It will do a kind of shimmy, and that’s when you know it’s okay to shove your fingers up through the gills and bleed it out.  You stick it in a cooler, and you go back in the water and do it all over again.  Later, in a beautiful symmetry, you will clean and process all your fish right next to the same ocean they came out of.

I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this, from the anticipation of catching to the satisfaction of seeing the Lord’s provision neatly packaged and laid out.  I had great, patient teachers in Lechuga’s friends, who became my friends over the weekend, and, goofy as it sounds, I felt closer to and more knowledgeable of the earth and its bounty.  I found myself thanking a few of my fish as I bonked them.  Maybe it’s the Cherokee in my heritage, but it seemed fitting.

Also, it wasn’t lost on me that as I’ve shifted into a new season of my life, long-awaited opportunities have become available.  And the promise of provision in this new season is sure.  I had told the Lord, of course, that I wanted to catch my full limit, which is 35 for a household of 2. But I only actually fished for about 4 or 5 hours total, and I didn’t get that many.  However, I got 8, and the number 8 represents new beginnings.  As I stood in the water, I heard Him say, “8 is a good number for you.”

As Lechuga and I drove home, I got a text which initially left me feeling very deflated after such a great weekend.  But then I realized that being in a new season meant that I didn’t even have to entertain old stuff that was trying to rear its head and encroach upon my contentment.  It was really liberating to see that clearly and to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have truly moved on.  HE has moved me on, and the promise of the new is tantalizing and beautiful and delicious and mine.

And I cannot WAIT to go dipnetting again next year!


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