Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the affiliation of Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tami Murray.
Members of the Kenai, Nikiski, and Anchorage Boys and Girls Clubs, along with other local kids, gathered at Soldotna’s Centennial Park on Thursday for the latest annual installment of the long-running Take our Kids Fishing event, during which Kenai River sportfishing guides take children on the river for two hours of fishing and instruction.
Fifty-three children attended, said to Heather Schloeman, executive director of the Kenai Boys and Girls Club. The group organized the free event along with the Kenai River Foundation. Shloeman said that although most of the participants were local, she had also invited the Anchorage Boys and Girls Clubs, which sent 10 members.
Tami Murray of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce said for many kids, the event was a first exposure to boat fishing.
“Some of the kids wouldn’t have this opportunity if we didn’t have this annually,” Murray said, adding that while boardwalks and river banks are easily available for fishing, boats are not. “To get out on the river itself in a boat is not always that easy. They might not have access or time, or parents who know how to do it.”
Before the participants were released into the boats, equipped with guide-supplied poles, tackle and life vests provided by the Safe Kids Alaska program, they were given presentations from Streamwatch and the Kenai Watershed Forum on the life-cycle of salmon, fish-handling skills, and the value of the river.
“(It was) basic things like not to litter into the river, because it’s yours for the future,” Murray said.
When the presentations ended, the fishing began.
“Once they are out on the river, the guides have control of teaching them how to catch, and release if they have to,” Schloeman said.
Four to five kids were assigned to each boat, under the supervision of professional fishing guides from the Kenai River Professional Guide Association. The guides donated their time, as well as the use of their boats and gear, to the event. After two hours on the river, they returned — some with salmon, which were filleted by volunteer Madison Orth, a recent Cook Inlet Academy graduate working for the summer with Early Fishing Guide Service. The children brought their fillets home.
Guide Josh Hayes said there were two kids in his group boating on the Kenai for the first time.
“That’s a positive experience right there, just getting out on the river,” Hayes said. “I think a lot of the kids that grow up here see this river and they drive by it, come fish sockeye with their family or whatever in the middle of July, and they see all those boats driving back and forth. But it’s a different world actually out there.”
Hayes said his group was curious about the river and about his gear.
“There’s a lot of questions: ‘is this freshwater or saltwater? How deep is it? What’s making all these waves?’” Hayes said. “I think it’s just a new experience for them. And part of that is playing with all the tools in the boat. They play with the anchor-line, the buoy, the net. They want to touch the sounder. They want to touch everything at least once. I let them have a free-for-all.”
Hayes said his boat caught and kept one silver salmon, “and about 11 rainbows and dollies,” which were released.
“I went trout fishing, so all those kids got fish,” Hayes said. “We caught that silver, and then I said ‘alright, let’s go catch a bunch of fish.’ I didn’t have anybody not catching fish in the boat. Everybody was screaming and yelling.”
Guide John David Stanley focused on salmon, bringing in one silver, as well as a pink and a Dolly Varden. However, he said the kids in his boat were not disappointed with their small catch.
“I had five kids. One of them was asleep, and the rest of them were playing “go fish” on the deck of the boat with cards,” said Stanley. “They didn’t care. They were having a great time.”
Stanley said working with kids was “way better” than guiding adults.
“Because kids listen,” Stanley said. “And they don’t have an expectation. Everything’s a positive for them. They’re in the boat, messing around and playing. There’s not a number set on what makes a good day. One fish makes the day.”
When Stanley’s boat did hook a fish, he said that bringing it in was a group effort.
“Three different kids fought the silver that I caught,” Stanley said. “They’d get tired and be like ‘here, you fight it!’ That makes it a lot better than guiding adults right there.”
Jessica Rumaner, a participant, said she was most excited about the boat ride.
“It was awesome,” she said. “He (the guide) went as fast as he could!”
She also caught a silver salmon, which her father, Scott Rumaner, said was her second fish ever. “She caught a humpy on a little Barbie pole a few years ago when she was 4,” he said. “Now she’s real fishing.”