With king salmon returns at an all-time low, the annual Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) Kenai River Classic continued for a second year as a catch and release event. Extra effort also was given to educate the more than 100 Classic participants, policymakers and visiting dignitaries on the importance of fish conservation and habitat restoration on the Kenai River.
Organizers are pleased to report that every angler who caught a king salmon at the event this year released it, keeping with KRSA's commitment to preserve the resources of the Kenai River. "For the second year in a row in light of the low king salmon returns statewide, the Classic has gone to a catch and release system for our prizes and we sent each participant home with ten pounds of fresh frozen sockeye salmon," said KRSA executive director Ricky Gease.
The Kenai River Classic also gave an especially important boost to the local economy.
The three-day fundraising event, held July 5-7, contributed more than $500,000 to the Kenai/Soldotna economy through participant lodging, food, guides, tours and transportation.
Funds raised through participant and sponsor fees, and auction proceeds are used for habitat restoration, angler access and education, fisheries management and research, and other conservation efforts on the Kenai River and other Southcentral Alaska watersheds. More than 100 dedicated volunteers and local businesses donated time, services and auction items to make the Classic a success.
"This year's Kenai River Classic demonstrated the awareness of Alaska companies and policymakers when it comes to how critical fisheries preservation and education is to the future of the Kenai River," said U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, honorary Classic host.
Classic participants had the opportunity to attend a roundtable discussion on fishery, parks and management issues on Friday. At that meeting, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) announced a statewide initiative to study low king salmon returns that are affecting every region of the state. Classic participants also attended two barbecues and catch and release fished for two days on the Kenai River. Nearly 400 people attended the annual auction and banquet at Soldotna Sports Center Friday evening.
The Classic Queen of the Kenai River award went to Susie Ellis for releasing the largest fish, a 42-inch king salmon. "It was a thrill from the time it hit until we brought it up to the boat and released it, we measured it in the water and fish was never out of the water and happily swam away," said Susie. "It was a great group of people and great fun and I'll be back next year to defend my title guys," she added. Susie's husband Ben was the first KRSA executive director 19 years ago and is now the director for Alaska State Parks. Kenai River Guide Ross Harding won the Yamaha "Celebrate the Guides" Luck of the Draw engine.
Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) is a 501 (c) 3 charitable non-profit, fishery 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.