Dipnetting the Twentymile River
Alaska's Twentymile River is the outflow of a collection of glacially-fed lakes and streams in the Chugach Mountains near Portage. The river carries a heavy load of glacial silt, therefore the water is an opaque gray color, limiting water clarity to less than an inch. The river is host to several anadromous fish runs, including several species of salmon. The river passes under the Seward Highway at MP 80.7. Twentymile is the first dipnet fishery of the season, with activity peaking during the month of May.
Although the Twentymile River hosts several salmon runs, the only fish available for dipnetting is hooligan. The hooligan run varies in size from one year to another, but overall populations are good and it is a very productive fishery.
The hooligan run in the Twentymile starts in early May, and peaks toward the end of the month.
Travel south of Anchorage and park on either side of the highway bridge (see map below), or cross the bridge and park between the Alaska Railroad right-of-way and the Seward Highway. There are no restroom facilities or other amenities in this area, other than a dirt boat ramp
The Alaska Railroad is private property! Stay off the tracks, the railroad trestle, and the railroad right-of-way. If you need to walk to the other side of the river, either drive or walk across the highway bridge.
There is no trash service at Twentymile. Haul your trash out, and bring a couple of extra trash bags to haul other people's garbage out. The parking areas between the railroad tracks and the highway are often used for camping areas, and trash accumulates in these areas. Keep the place clean! Porta-potties are located at the main turnoff at the bridge, so do not use the woods here for a rest room! Alternatively, take the short drive up into the Portage Valley and use the rest rooms at one of the campgrounds. Finally, you can drive ten miles north to Girdwood and use the facilities there, and while you're at it, have a pizza or an ice cream at the strip mall. You can purchase trash bags here as well.
Crossing the Seward Highway on foot is a dangerous business! Be extra careful when crossing the highway on foot, and especially when crossing the bridge on foot. People are accustomed to driving fast though this section, because the closest reduced-speed area before you get here is ten miles away, in Girdwood. Be extremely careful when pulling off to park, and when you are merging back onto the highway.
There are several places to dipnet hooligan in the Twentymile River area. Here's an overview.
1. MP 80, Seward Highway. Dipnetters can park on either side of the Seward Highway in this area. Dipnetting takes place in Cook Inlet, from the rocks along the shoreline. Be especially careful to park well off the highway, and be careful crossing the road. Traffic travels fast on this highway and you need to be extra-vigilant when crossing the highway on foot, or when stopping or merging back into traffic..
2. Boat Ramp Area. Pull off on the north side of the bridge and park head-in at the gravel parking lot, or for more adventurous types with four-wheel-drive, park on the beach above the tide line. This is the most popular place to dipnet on the Twentymile River, and there is ample room to spread out. The best fishing is anywhere from the rocks on the west side of the bridge, around the curve downstream. A channel exists on this side of the river, which causes fish to swing close to shore in this area. Prta-potties are usually located here during the hooligan season.
3. North Side near the Tracks. If you pull off the highway before the bridge, a dirt road runs south between the highway and the railroad tracks. Park along this road or at the end, but be careful about parking at the end of the road; it's easy for someone to block you in, and you're stuck there until they leave. This location gives you easy access to dipnetting opportunities between the highway bridge and the railroad trestle. Some people camp in this area, and tend to leave garbage scattered about, including human waste. Clean up after yourself, and bring along a couple of trash bags to pick up after others. There is no trash service here.
4. South Side Parking Area. There's a short dirt road and parking area south of the river, between the Seward Highway and the railroad tracks. Park here and walk north to the river.
5. South Side Railroad Trestle. Walk from the South Side parking area under the railroad trestle. The best dipnetting is in a small location just upstream of the trestle, where the channel curves close to shore.
6. Upriver. Boaters can launch at location #2 (see map) and make their way upriver to any of several very good locations for dipnetting. Look for deep holes along the outside bends for the best results.
Caring for Your Catch
You'll have to bring your own ice and coolers of course, but if you forget the ice, you can pick some up in Girdwood. Most hooligan fishermen put their live fish in five-gallon buckets with some river water. If you go that route, put the buckets in the shade, to keep the water cool. You'll want to change the water often, as a bucket full of hooligan can exhaust the oxygen supply pretty quickly. Most dipnetters clean their hooligan at home.
Celebrate Diversity! Pick up Someone's Trash!
Very few Alaskans were born here, and most of those came from parents or grandparents who moved here from somewhere else. At the same time, we live among people who can trace their ancestry back to a time when Alaska was a very primitive place, devoid of the modern trappings of development. So Alaska is an amazing melting pot of diverse cultures, with vastly diverse perspectives on nature, the environment, and on how we conduct ourselves in the field. Most of the cultures represented in Alaska today have their roots in a strong love for the outdoors, and an intensely personal environmental ethic. Traditional Samoan culture has a very high regard for the environment and man's place in it. Filipino culture embraces a concept they call "pakikisama", or "harmony", in which getting along with others is respected. They also incorporate the principle of "hiya", or "shame". It's a sense of social decency that drives them to comply with public norms of behavior. Japanese culture embraces the notion of living with nature, as opposed to the Western concept of taming nature. Alaska native culture embraces a love for the land and the creatures that live on it, recognizing man's role as a participant in nature. Western culture, though having gone through times when care for the environment took a back seat to industrial progress, has come full-circle to now setting high standards of environmental protection and accountability. Gone are the days when tossing beer cans into the weeds at the old fishing hole, or flipping cigarette butts into the river were accepted practices. Now, we pick up after ourselves and those around us.
As interest in Alaska grows, we are seeing an increase in the numbers of people on our rivers and lakes. Some of these people come from places where strong environmental ethics were not in place, and they are bringing that here. We are seeing an increase in trash left behind by people who should know better. A bag full of trash, left lying where a trash can used to be, will attract other people to leave their trash in that place as well. Let's break that cycle, by hauling out our own trash.
Regardless of your cultural or social background, we are all Alaskans, and we share a strong environmental perspective. We don't want our home to become like some of the places we came from. The Alaskan environmental ethic drives us to not only haul out our own trash, but to bring along a couple of extra bags to pick up after other people as well. We teach our children to do the same, because this is our cultural norm. Many of the dipnetting sites in Alaska have no trash facilities, and garbage left behind by some becomes a burden others must clean up. Let's take the initiative to show our love for this amazing place by cleaning up after ourselves, and by leaving no trace of our campsites.
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