Good fishing, sunny skies, fun games, and education combined to make the 5th Annual Kenai River Jr. Classic a day to remember for kids and parents alike. Most of the kids who fished in Kenai River Sportfishing Association's (KRSA's) Kenai River Jr. Classic didn't even realize it was a day of learning; they just knew they had fun fishing.
The 130 kids from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of the Kenai Peninsula caught more than 200 silver salmon Tuesday afternoon while fishing with professional guides.
They also learned about the river's ecology, fish, boating safety and why it's important to wear a life jacket. Several of the escorts who came from JBER, some of who recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan, also got to wet a line. "All you had to do is look at the smiles on their faces as they came in after fishing and you knew they had an experience they'll remember for years to come," said Owen Stribling, district executive with Boy Scouts of America. "This is a fantastic event."
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 love the sport as adults. "The best time to develop educated and responsible anglers is when people are young. Getting a kid hooked on fishing is one of the best gifts anyone can give a child," said KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease. "This event is designed to allow kids who might not otherwise have the opportunity to fish to enjoy a fun-filled day. The proof? All you have to do is see the excitement in their eyes."
More than 40 Alaska and national companies, as well as individuals along with premiere sponsor TriWest Healthcare Alliance; sponsored boats so that children, ages 8 to 16, could enjoy an afternoon of fishing, explained Gease. "The youth spent the morning learning about fish in the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Mobile Aquatic Classroom. They also learned how to tie fishing knots, observed an owl up-close, courtesy of the Alaska Bird Treatment & Learning Center, and learned about the importance of wearing a life jacket from representatives of the Alaska Office of Boating Safety. The young anglers also received a loaner life jacket through the SAFE Kids program," he said.
"The bus ride down here was great, the kids got to make a bunch of new friends as they traveled together, but when the saw the boats waiting for them they just couldn't wait to go fishing," said Susan DeDeionisio J-BER coordinator. "The military parents of these kids were more than appreciative, with lots of hugs and smiles as they sent their kids here for memorable day on the Kenai, so kudos and accolades to all who volunteered to make this event happen," she added. Albert Williams, a transporter for the U.S. Army had just returned from deployment in Afghanistan and was able to accompany his four kids to the Jr. Classic, "My daughter is probably the best fisherman, but my son claims he is, but you know the boys seem to let their ego get in the way of their focus on catching the fish, but they all were up at 4:00am without being asked to get ready to come fishing," laughed Williams. KRSA Jr. Classic chairman Rick Bucy said, "I enjoy watching these kids catch fish better than I like catching them myself, and I really like catching fish!"
Program partners of this year's Kenai River Jr. Classic include KRSA, JBER, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of the Kenai Peninsula, ADF&G and the Central Peninsula Hospital's SAFE Kids Program.
"I don't know what else we could ask for," said Joyce Cox, membership coordinator with Girl Scouts of Alaska. "Sunny weather, new friendships and the chance to catch a salmon -- my girls are just ecstatic!"
Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) is a charitable non-profit, membership-based educational and conservation organization of sport anglers, conservationists and others, whose primary goal is to preserve and improve salmon habitat while promoting responsible sport fishing on the Kenai River. Learn more at www.kenairiversportfishing.com.