For the last decade, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s (KRSA) ladies-only event known as the Women’s Classic has been a unique opportunity for women to enjoy fishing on the Kenai River.
Kristin Mellinger has chaired the event for eight of the last 10 years and was excited to announce that this year the Women’s Classic surpassed the Kenai River Classic started by U.S. Senator Ted Stevens 25 years ago.
“It was tense holding an event with people wondering about where the economy is headed and what oil prices are doing to the state. But this year’s group of women came out in full force and total generosity. We set an ambitious goal of $110,000. Our previous record at the Women’s Classic was $114,000 and we were reluctant to exceed that as our goal because of the economy, yet the women were amazing and showed their appreciation of the river, conservation and education and raised $125,000 which is a new record for the women and a remarkable achievement,” said Mellinger in an interview.
Prior to the Women’s Classic, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Kenai River Classic, Aug. 23-25, KRSA honored the late Sen. Ted Stevens as a co-founder of the event, remembering his vision of bringing people to the Kenai River to celebrate its magnificent resources. Prior to the start of the three-day event, a Senate Commerce Committee chaired by Sen. Dan Sullivan held a field hearing on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act on August 23 in Soldotna. Three panels of national fishery leaders discussed how best to improve the national fisheries policy for marine waters. Recreational fishing representatives discussed the fundamental differences between commercial and recreational fisheries management, and the need to incorporate appropriate recreational management tools in the federal toolbox that are currently lacking.
Following the field hearing, the Classic Welcome Dinner kicked off the event with special appearances by Catherine Stevens and former governor Tony Knowles, who talked about Senator Stevens and his love of the Kenai and the Classic. A special commemorative portrait of Stevens by celebrity artist Nicolosi was auctioned off at the Classic banquet and auction the following night, with more than 300 people in attendance.
Mother Nature always seems to save her best autumn days for the Women’s Classic and every year KTUU meteorologist Jackie Purcell, who emcee’s the event, attributes that to “Just very, very good luck.”
“Those fall storms that come in and pound us with rain and wind are moving at a fast clip so I knew the storm earlier in the week probably would blow over and it did with a beautiful sunny day on Friday and nice as well on Saturday. But the ladies are not dependent on the weather for this event. There is a real spirit of comradery, but also competition, we are out there to catch the big ones and win. But the river is the real winner and we are out there to preserve this treasure for future generations,” said Purcell.
Call it beginner’s luck or providence, but this year’s winner with the largest silver salmon landed during the two days was first time angler Dr. Nancy Kragt with a 14.1-pound coho.
“First time ever on the Kenai!” exclaimed Kragt, an ER physician at Alaska Regional Hospital.“It’s a perfect stress reliever, I was totally in my happy place today. We had so much fun today we have already planned our trip for next year.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski also participated in this year’s event and agreed that it was an incredible day.
“Being here on this magnificent river with an incredible group of women who have not only been having a fun day catching silvers but helping to make the Kenai the river that we all dream it to be for generations in the future. This river holds so much magic for so many,” said Murkowski.
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. Learn more at www.krsa.com.