A few masks were present among the dipnetters on the Kenai River beach July 21, 2020. The fishing was slow. (Anne Raup / ADN)

KENAI — The coronavirus has seemed to disrupt just about every aspect of life, but the annual salmon dipnetting scene at the mouth of the Kenai River this week looked essentially as it has in years past.

Our Monday evening drive from Anchorage to Kenai was very different, though. Traffic was relatively light, Cooper Landing was like a ghost town. Aside from the jaw-dropping sight of a rainbow after we passed through a rain shower, the drive south was uneventful. The normally bustling towns of Sterling, Soldotna and Kenai felt sleepy.

The pandemic-inspired changes at the city of Kenai’s beach access became clear as soon as we left the highway.

The process of paying for parking at the North Kenai River beach is now touchless, and employees are behind Plexiglas. There’s no coffee and snack stand in the parking lot. And for another first, there are hand-washing stations near the outhouses. But even before the river was open for dipnetting at 6 a.m., the parking lot was near-full and bustling with people preparing for gathering fish.

Once the magical early-morning light on Mount Redoubt had brightened into a sunny day, dipnetters stood shoulder to shoulder in river water mixing with the ocean. Social distancing didn’t seem to be on dipnetters’ minds. There were a few masks; perhaps one in 50 people was wearing some form of face covering.

Mount Redoubt shows the first light of the morning July 21, 2020. (Anne Raup / ADN)
People prepare to fish Tuesday in the Kenai beach parking lot. (Anne Raup / ADN)
Early July 21, 2020, the beach at the Kenai River was fairly quiet. A cart and cooler wait for dipnetters to bring salmon. (Anne Raup / ADN)
A person with a mask waits for more fishing action on the Kenai River beach on Tuesday. (Anne Raup / ADN)
A wave splashes over a dipnetter on the Kenai River July 21, 2020. Depending on tide and winds, a raucous wave pattern sets up during parts of the day. (Anne Raup / ADN)
The outhouse doors at the Kenai River are adorned with COVID-19 information. (Anne Raup / ADN)
For the first time ever, the facilities in the Kenai River parking lot include hand-washing stations. (Anne Raup / ADN)
A masked dipnetter talks on the phone at the North Kenai River beach on Tuesday. (Anne Raup / ADN)
A few masks were present in the dipnetters on the Kenai River beach on Tuesday. (Anne Raup / ADN)
A dipnetter adjusts his mask while walking to the beach. (Anne Raup / ADN)
A dipnetter has a well-covered face while fishing for salmon in the Kenai River on Tuesday. (Anne Raup / ADN)
Dipnetters walk the ’conga line ’ on the north Kenai River beach while fishing for salmon on Tuesday. People using the conga line method walk upstream on land, then, with nets in the water, move downstream with the current to bring in their fish. (Anne Raup / ADN)
The Kenai River beach scene was busy with people, fish and birds July 21, 2020. (Anne Raup / ADN)
Becca Wolfe laughs with her mother while fishing for salmon at the Kenai River on Tuesday. (Anne Raup / ADN)
A fisherman brings a cleaned salmon to his cooler on the bank of the north Kenai River July 21, 2020. (Anne Raup / ADN)

The fishing was slow on Tuesday. A few tiny pulses of fish coming into the mouth of the river kept people in the river, hoping for bigger pulses to come.

People hoping to dipnet salmon stand in the waters at the mouth of the Kenai River on Tuesday. (Anne Raup / ADN)

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