Some life-long Kenai Peninsula residents had never fished before.
Many of the children had never even been on the Kenai River, said Tami Murray, board member of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association.But that all changed Thursday afternoon.
“We’re hoping that they catch at least one fish,” Murray said, waiting by the Kenai’s edge in Soldotna’s Centennial Park for the 70 children to return. They’d been out there for almost two hours.
Most of the children came with the Boys & Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula; others were from the community. But for all the children, a guided day fishing the Kenai with 16 guides on 16 boats was free. Thursday was the event’s fourth annual year.
Before boarding the boats, the children met at the Kenai Boys & Girls Club for a demonstration on properly fitting lifejackets and why they are necessary. The Challenger Learning Center of Alaska’s Coldwater Survival Egress Training team lead the class.
Once at the Kenai River, the Kenai Watershed Forum told the children about the diversity of life the river supports and how it is important to protect the river’s resources.
Murray said the event is largely about education.
“If you start young enough, they remember it,” she said.
Val Early, co-owner of Early Fishing and an event volunteer, said educating children is particularly important — they are the next generation of anglers.
And, like the old adage, once the children know how to fish: “They eat for a lifetime,” Early said.
After more than two hours, approaching boat engines began humming and the guides pulled into the shore.
One boy ran into the parking lot yelling that his boat had caught three king salmon, and that was better than nothing, he said.
“I also caught a king,” 8-year-old Amara Lewis said, “but I had to let it go.”
Amara stood at the corner of a fish-cleaning station with her aunt. The little girl’s eyes were fixed on the fish and the knife and the guts. The king wasn’t the only fish she had caught.
“It was hard to reel him in,” she said.
The sockeye salmon was actually a “she,” Amara said; it was carrying eggs.
It was also the first fish she had ever caught.
She was very excited, she said.
“And once I get home,” she said, “I’m going to eat that fish.”
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.