For the 14th year of the Kenai River Jr. Classic, more than 100 kids from Kenai and Anchorage spent the day on the Kenai River fishing for salmon while learning important lessons about water safety and conservation.
The event is organized each year by the Kenai River Sport Fishing Association, and Executive Director Ben Mohr said fishing on the Kenai is an opportunity that a lot of kids never get the chance to experience. The Sport Fishing Association’s goal with the annual Jr. Classic is to teach kids about all that Alaska has to offer on “one of the most incredible rivers in the world.”
This year about 40 kids from the peninsula and almost 70 kids from military families stationed at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson participated in the classic at no cost to the families. After being bused down from Anchorage thanks to Premier Alaska Tours, the kids spent the morning at the Harry Gaines Fish Camp playing games and participating in aquatic-themed educational activities.
Volunteers from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, for example, set up an area where the kids could practice their casting, taught them about the anatomy of a salmon and made key chains that reflected the life cycle of a salmon.
After the morning activities, the kids were given life jackets and a lunch. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R- Alaska, was in attendance, as she is every year, and gave the kids a pep talk before they hit the water.
Prior to getting on the boats, some of the kids shared their thoughts on the trip. Some had been fishing on the Kenai River before, and some had never been fishing at all.
Lylah Woodhouse, who came up from Connecticut this summer to spend time with her dad, was a first-time fisherwoman.
“I’m excited, and nervous,” Woodhouse said. When asked how many fish she thought she would catch, she aimed high: “100!”
Chase Johnson from Kenai, on the other hand, was just on the river with his family a couple weeks ago. Johnson participated in the Jr. Classic last year and ran into a bit of a snag while on the water.
“Someone got their line caught on my line, and then I got a fish on my line, so then when they cut the line the other person got the fish,” Johnson recalled. Johnson said that this time around he knew what to do to avoid any repeat entanglements.
Dylan Imhoff from Anchorage has some fishing experience under his belt, but catching salmon is a whole new world for him.
“I’m kinda nervous because I don’t want the fish to pull me in the water,” Imhoff said. Luckily, the kids were trained in how to properly wear a life jacket in the case of any runaway fish.
The kids went out in groups of four and each of the 27 boats was piloted by a professional fishing guide, who kept them entertained while the fish weren’t biting.
It turned out to be a slow day for catching fish, but that didn’t stop the kids from having a good time on the water.
Ryan Jorg shared his experience nearly snagging one of the only salmon of the day.
“I had a bite and it was about a foot away from netting range, when ‘bang!’ It took off,” Jorg said.
Many of the kids agreed that even though the fish weren’t biting, it was still a trip to remember. Some of the guides played music and games on the boats, and others drove up and down the river hitting the waves. The kids also got to go home with a portion of the day’s catch, a goodie bag and a new rod and reel.