It was the smiles on the faces of the kids that caught their first fish or zoomed down the Kenai River rocking and rolling over the waves that truly told the story of the 9th Annual Kenai River Junior Classic. “To be home on this beautiful river with the sun on your back and the wind in your face as you see the excitement and thrill of a military service child catching their first salmon, well it just doesn’t get any better,” said Honorary Jr. Classic Chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “The gratitude that we owe our service men and women is indeed deep. And we also need to recognize that the families of those that wear the uniform also serve. So to be able to take some of these youngsters that are living on bases, some Army, some Air Force, and most on the river for their first time makes this a tangible way to show our appreciation and respect for them. The spirit of the guides and volunteers that make this event possible is a spirit that I carry with me and stays with me when I’m back in D.C. but it comes together as very real when you are out here on the river, it grounds you and strengthens you to represent the people and the place we call home,” said Murkowski.
More than 100 military, Girl Scout and Boy Scout youth participated in this year’s silver salmon fishing event, which is organized by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA). For many of the youth who participated, it was the first time that they had ever caught a fish. Kids not only got to fish with a professional guide, they also learned about the river’s ecology, fish, boating safety and why it’s important to wear a life jacket. The Jr. Classic is part of a nationwide effort — Take Me Fishing — that encourages young people to learn about and enjoy fishing. “KRSA hopes that by exposing kids to fishing at an early age, they’ll learn to the love the sport as adults. The event also capitalizes on the fact that the most important time to develop educated and responsible anglers is when people are young. We hope that by learning how important it is to wear a life jacket and to protect river resources at a young age, these kids will become the next generation of responsible sport anglers,” said KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease.
Butch and Jehnifer Ehmann drove down from the Mat-Su Valley where they are fishing guides to participate in the Jr. Classic, “We really wanted the kids from the Mat-Su to have the opportunity to be exposed to Kenai River and everything that goes on down here and this was a great opportunity to bring them down. Our goal is to create future anglers and kids that are exposed to making lifetime memories and want to care for this wonderful resource,” said Jehnifer.
Sponsors for this year’s Jr. Classic included Alaska USA Federal Credit Union and Alaska USA Foundation and more than 20 Alaska and national companies and individuals who sponsored boats or donated cash or in-kind services to the event so that youth, ages eight to 16, could enjoy an afternoon of fishing. KRSA pays the professional guides who take the children fishing. Participants spent the morning learning about fish through educational programs from the Alaska Center for Coastal Studies and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which taught the youth about river ecology and why habitat restoration and protection is so important. They also played games from booths through Sportsman’s Warehouse and Home Depot, learned about the importance of boating safety and wearing a life jacket from representatives of the Alaska Office of Boating Safety and received a loaner life jacket through the SAFE Kids program courtesy of Central Peninsula Hospital.