It’s been 20 years since U.S. Senator Ted Stevens thought it would be in the best interest of Alaskans to share the experience of the greatest sport fishing river in the world with business leaders and politicians from across America. With the help of his friend Bob Penny and others the first Kenai River Classic was held in July 20 years ago and as fortune would have it that year Senator Stevens caught the largest king salmon to ever be landed during the Classic. “It’s appropriate that the trophy bears his name because the man who is an Alaskan legend thought of it, supported it, attended it and the son-of-a-gun actually did in the very first hour of the very first Kenai River Classic 20 years ago caught a king that has never been challenged in weight. Now they accused him of having scuba divers at work in the water but I didn’t see any bubbles in the water around his boat,” said Mark Hamilton, retired U.S. Army General and retired UAA president, now incoming Kenai River Sportfishing Assoc. president.
This year the annual event switched from the July king salmon run to the August silver salmon, “But the Classic remains an important venue for fisheries dducation and research, habitat and conservation efforts on the Kenai River,” said Hamilton. More than 100 people and dozens of volunteers showed their support for the Kenai River at the event. “The fishing was great, but the purpose of the event – to educate policymakers, corporate officials and fishing enthusiasts on how important it is to take care of the Kenai River and its fisheries resources – hasn’t changed, and everyone had a great time this year because we all caught fish,” he said.
Highlights of this year’s events included a first-ever “Classic Roundtable on National Recreational Fishing” on Wednesday with Sen. Mark Begich. Representatives from leading national sport fishing interests including the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation, the American Sportfishing Association and the Coastal Conservation Association joined KRSA to share some of the issues facing recreational fisheries. They urged Begich to make sure that recreational fishing is better addressed when the Magnuson-Stevens Act is reauthorized in 2014. On Tuesday, Classic participants held a Legislative update from officials with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) and Alaska State Parks. They also received an update on smolt and fish tracking technology that has successfully been deployed in Canada and is starting to be implemented in Cook Inlet to give us valuable information about where fish go once they leave the river systems.
The 2013 Kenai River Classic also gave an especially important boost to the local economy. The three-day fundraising event, held August 19-21, 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.
Nearly 400 people attended the annual auction and banquet at Soldotna Sports Center Tuesday evening. At that time, Kenai River Classic Honorary Host Sen. Lisa Murkowski presented Reuben Hanke, owner of Harry Gaines Guide Service and a longtime KRSA board member, with the Kenai River Guardian Award for his dedication to Kenai River conservation. Alaska Sen. Kevin Meyer was honored with the Alaska Legislative Sportfishing Advocate of the Year award. Presenting sponsor of this year’s Classic was Yamaha. BP Alaska sponsored the Welcome Dinner, ConocoPhillips and Shell Oil sponsored fishing activities, and Alaska Airlines and Home Depot sponsored the Classic Banquet.
The Kenai River Classic Cup went to Omar Garcia of South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable (STEER) for catching a 13.1-pound silver. Second place went to Mitch Hunter of Yamaha with a 12.6-pound fish and Rep. Wes Keller took third place with a 12.5 pound silver. Kenai River Guide Val Early won the Yamaha “Celebrate the Guides” Luck of the Draw engine. Learn more at www.kenairiversportfishing.com.