Techniques, time savers
I'm far from an expert on dipping, been doing it for a few years now, and have made some observations over the years, and keep tweaking my technique.
I think most folks who haven't done it think you just put your net in the water, scoop em out, and nothing to it. Not quite that simple. Also there are plenty of times when the fish aren't where you are, and your net stays empty. My first ever time out to the copper I came home tired and fishless, but did meet an old timer that calls himself Copper River Gary, and he was kind to give me pointers from his 30 years of dipping, and shared some smoked salmon with me. It's folks like Gary, a real character, that make Alaska special.
When you do get into a slug of fish, you need to be prepared to deal with them efficiently, as time processing the fish is time with your net out of the water, and they come in slugs, so you need to get your fill while the slug is coming through.
I've dipped solo and it is alot of work, if you can bring family and friends to help process fish, life is very good. Remember, every helper has to be a resident.
You should have a fish bopper and knife close at hand to stun and bleed the fish, and something clean to put them in. On the copper I took the net off my landing net come dip net and ran a line through the top to cinch it into a bag. Fish are bopped, cut a gill arch and drop them in the bag to keep em cool and bleed em out in the river. On the Kenai, I've had the family with me, and as soon as I untangle a fish, it's bopped and an arch torn, and my wife or kids gut it, clean the dirt off in the river, and use a snow sled to pull them up to the coolers, left right by the droppoff. If you try and pull your entire catch from the rivers edge you'll swear you'll never do it again.
I almost forgot, cutting the tail. I first started using a knife, it works after a fashion, but trying to get a good hold on a slimy fish and making a quick cut is tough. Then I thought, aha, kitchen shears, and they work better. Then I went with simplicity, a scrap block of wood and a hatchet, nothing faster or simpler (watch your fingers)
I've found one of the jumbo 150-160 qt coolers will hold about 30 reds and 5 bags of ice. These are whole gutted fish. If you cut off the heads, you can store a few more, but I like fish head soup, and the heads are also great bait for halibut or shrimp pots.
Some folks fillet right on the river, that will take up the least space in the cooler, but for the life of me, I have the darned time keeping sand and grit off the whole fish, so like to keep them whole until I'm home and have a cleaner spot to process them.
Filleting, cutting and bagging the fish takes longer than catching them, and my back is killing me afterwords. Loading alot of fish in a chest freezer at once takes awhile to freeze them. I stick a 5 gallon bucket in the freezer to make a big block of ice before loading up the freezer as a thermal sink. Provide spacing between the fish to speed freezing.
If you're going to smoke the fish, dry brine as many fillets as you plan to smoke. Even if you don't smoke them all at once, you can freeze the brined fillets, and thaw and smoke them later. Just make sure others in the house know which fillets are brined, as you'll get a salty suprise should someone thaw them and make dinner with them.
Have fun and be safe. Sadly there are usually a few folks that drown while dipping every year. Repsect the rivers and currents, they are potentially quite dangerous, cold and fast running. No fish is worth dying for.
Nice post Paul. I have been dipping the Copper for years and I concur with everything you said. It used to be law that you had to dock the tail and notch your permit each time you caught a fish but they have since changed it to doing it before your leave your dipping post. I like this so much better because as you said it takes time away from catching fish if you are docking tails and notching the permit. You are correct in the fish coming in slugs. You may catch a dozen or more in real short order and then nothing for some time. I have tried everything for notching the tails including pruning shears but I have found that what works best for me is a razor-sharp Kabar Hunting knife. I hold the fish vertically with one finger in the gill and take a quick swipe downward with the knife and lob off the tail fin on one side and then the other with another swipe.