The Kenai Flip

It’s my third shot at this: the Kenai Flip.

Fishing for red (sockeye) salmon in Alaska’s Kenai River is unlike anything I’ve ever done before.  It’s a type of fishing I have to learn as I go along and, so far, no luck.

Jim pulled one the other night, which we had fried last night. It was amazing, but I’ll let him tell you about that.

Our daughter hung one, but it spit her hook and leaped into the air in a flourish.

Jim says salmon jump like that when they spit the hook because they don’t have middle fingers.

The Kenai Flip is basically this:

  • With your salmon rod, hook on a leader (three to five feet of line, then a hook with a piece of brightly colored yarn on it) with a weight
  • Feed out some line.
  • Toss the weight upstream into the river by casting out a few feet to your 10 o’clock position.
  • Let the weight bounce along on the bottom until your 2 o’clock position.
  • Give the line a little tug, then flip the line and weight back to the 10 o’clock position.

Rinse. Repeat.

For hours.

The key is to let the line run down the river with the weight and hook perpendicular to the current.

Sockeye salmon don’t eat coming up river, but they do gasp with their mouths open. The idea is to slide that line into their mouths and let the hook catch. That is the only legal catch.

If the hook gets them any other place– their side, a fin — it’s called a snag, and the fish has to go back.

Of course, I know all of this theoretically because I haven’t caught a damn thing.

At least the scenery is beautiful, but it doesn’t fill my freezer.

The Kenai River, Soldotna, Alaska


That day, the only catch was our daughter’s, and it was a flat fish.

“Kenai Flat Fish”

Pre-filleted. Used salmon. Pre-caught and butchered.

Back in it went, and home we went. Skunked.

Yes, you are supposed to chuck the remains after filleting into the river to feed the critters in the ecosystem, and keeping the bears away from fishing areas. However, you are supposed to cut the carcass into chucks to avoid what happened to our daughter.

This year, I’d also really like to try dipnetting. Taking place 20 miles down the river at the mouth, not more than five miles as the raven flies, you actually wade into the river and hold a five foot wide net on the bottom.  It is a similar waiting game, but the fish swim into your net instead of snagging your line.

However, instead of 10 people lined up on a 100-foot dock, there are dozens of people in the river and commercial vessels setting nets along the mouth.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Dipnetters on the beach at the mouth of the Kenai River.
Dipnetters on the beach at the mouth of the Kenai River.