John “Gus” Knox, right, holds a salmon he caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

John “Gus” Knox, right, holds a salmon he caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Smiles and salmon

Junior classic takes kids on the river

“Not all of you are going to catch a fish today,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski told a group of roughly 100 young anglers on Wednesday, only feet from the bank of the Kenai River. “That’s why it’s called fishing and not catching.”

Murkowski told them that regardless of their personal success Wednesday, they would have fun experiencing “one of the most exceptional rivers in the world.”

The kids were gathered for the 17th Annual Kenai River Junior Classic, put on by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association — an educational event that puts kids in the boats of experienced guides and out on the river fishing.

Director Shannon Martin said Wednesday that for the association, “it’s always about the fish,” but with the junior classic, “it’s also about the kids.”

“Seeing the kids experience the river, many of them for the first time, that’s a joy to watch,” she said.

Most participants came from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, brought to Soldotna with assistance from the Armed Services YMCA. Others came from “various youth groups on the Kenai Peninsula,” a release from the association says.

Martin said 26 guides were participating, and they could be seen lined up and staggered down the river, ready to go on Wednesday even as Murkowski spoke. Each boat took a chaperone and around four kids.

In addition to the fishing, an educational fair was held earlier in the day, the release says, with hands-on educational opportunities provided by the State Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Boating Safety, Aurora Dance, Camp Fire Alaska, Central Emergency Services, Challenger Learning Center of Alaska, Home Depot, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Life Med, Safe Kids Alaska, and Trout Unlimited.

After hours spent on the river, a parade of boats moved in and out of an access point, returning the participants to solid ground, many of whom brought with them freshly caught salmon. First in was John “Gus” Knox, who held aloft a silver salmon roughly half as long as he is tall. He excitedly disembarked, calling back to his guide over his shoulder.

“Bye Captain!”

Success was far from universal — most boats returned boasting at least two salmon, while some could only report “we saw some fish.” One returning party of three girls showed off six salmon.

Each fish was quickly whisked away by volunteers from the Soldotna High School cross-country running team — “fish wranglers.” They took the salmon, bagged them and delivered them to two men at a fillet table. In short order, the fish were filleted, cleaned and deposited in a row of coolers ready to take home.

Martin credited community support from the different organizations, from the student volunteers and from the guides with making the event happen each year.

“We took 100 kids fishing … it brings so many folks together,” she said. “Everybody’s leaving with a smile on their face.”

For more information about the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, visit krsa.com or facebook.com/KenaiRiverSportfishing.

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

Chloe Gray and other occupants of a guide boat hold up six salmon they caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Chloe Gray and other occupants of a guide boat hold up six salmon they caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Tanner Poe holds up a salmon he caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Tanner Poe holds up a salmon he caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Joshua Guzman holds up a salmon he caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Joshua Guzman holds up a salmon he caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Boats with kids, guides, and freshly caught salmon return to shore at the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Boats with kids, guides, and freshly caught salmon return to shore at the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Katie Jeffreys holds up a salmon she caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Katie Jeffreys holds up a salmon she caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Lillian Bohman holds up a salmon she caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Lillian Bohman holds up a salmon she caught during the Kenai River Junior Classic in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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