Middle schoolers participate in a discussion of ethical angling practices during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers participate in a discussion of ethical angling practices during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Learning to love the watershed

Kids camp teaches fly fishing, ecology

On the banks of the Kenai River on Wednesday, 10 middle schoolers practiced fly casting — the swish of their lines audible over the wind and the water. The students are part of the first kids camp put on by the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, funded by a grant from the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The camp ran from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center, and the kids participated in a variety of activities and classes led by Tony Lewis and other members of the chapter, including Dave Atcheson and Alexa Millward, as well as at least one session hosted by the Kenai Watershed Forum using their erosion tables.

Trout Unlimited’s goal, Lewis said, is conservation and education, keeping the habitat healthy and getting more people involved with fishing. Lewis said that getting kids involved with fishing was especially important to him — seeing kids “learning hobbies, learning things to do outdoors to keep them busy, keep them excited about doing things.” Because of the grant funding, the camp was offered for free.

This year was the first for the program, Lewis said, and so there wasn’t a model to work from. They focused on including a diverse set of topics, but also giving the kids lots of opportunities to get hands on.

Millward said that the passion and the engagement of the kids was exciting and rewarding. That was, she said, especially true because the students had just come out of school and into summer break, but were in a sense back in the classroom.

Ethan Anderson, one of the middle schoolers who participated, said that the rod building was his favorite activity — saying he didn’t realize how complex the construction was. He pointed to the side of the rod he was casting with and said, “I never knew this was thread.”

Aviana Stroh pointed instead to bugs and the previous day’s conversation about stream ecology as the most interesting to her. She said she had learned that a whole lot of bugs can be found under rocks.

“I’m into science and math,” she said.

Both Anderson and Stroh said the camp had been “really fun.” They said they’d learned about casting, ethics, erosion and tying knots. A schedule for the event says that fish identification, dissection, stream conservation and more fly tying were yet to come on Thursday and Friday.

Lewis said that fly fishing was a big focus of the camp, but that through that act of fishing they entered conversations about “taking care of the river that you’re fishing into.”

Fly fishing was described by Lewis as being “more involved” than some other styles of fishing. He said it can take more understanding of the fish, the streams and the ecology. But, he said, “if you get good at it, you can be very successful.”

The rod building cited by Anderson, Lewis said, was a surprise hit. Each student over the course of the week were tasked with constructing their own fishing rod, which they’ll take home.

“It’s technical, it’s a little bit tedious and it’s frustrating sometimes,” Lewis said. “They were patient with it and they’ve really been getting into it.”

He said that during some of the work sessions, even with up to a dozen teenagers in the room, the kids have been “silent,” engrossed in the craft.

Even as Lewis spoke, after the end of the day’s session, a few students were still at their tables, tinkering with their in progress rods. Some, Lewis said, had also come early ahead of the start of the day to keep working.

Lewis said he wasn’t sure what the future would hold for the event especially as it comes to funding, but that he considered this first run of the camp “a huge success” and wants to see it continue next year.

For more information about the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, visit facebook.com/TroutUnlimitedKenaiPeninsulaChapter.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Tony Lewis helps a student with the assembly of a fishing rod during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Tony Lewis helps a student with the assembly of a fishing rod during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Ethan Anderson practices fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Ethan Anderson practices fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Ethan Anderson practices fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Ethan Anderson practices fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Alexa Millward helps Aviana Stroh with her fly cast during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Alexa Millward helps Aviana Stroh with her fly cast during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting in the parking lot of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska, during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Dave Atcheson demonstrates fly casting into the Kenai River to a crowd of middle schoolers during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Dave Atcheson demonstrates fly casting into the Kenai River to a crowd of middle schoolers during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Dave Atcheson demonstrates fly casting into the Kenai River to a crowd of middle schoolers during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Dave Atcheson demonstrates fly casting into the Kenai River to a crowd of middle schoolers during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting into the Kenai River during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting into the Kenai River during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting into the Kenai River during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting into the Kenai River during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Aviana Stroh practices fly casting into the Kenai River during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Aviana Stroh practices fly casting into the Kenai River during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Middle schoolers practice fly casting into the Kenai River during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimted on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Aviana Stroh practices fly casting into the Kenai River during a kids camp put on by Trout Unlimited on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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