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.
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.
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