Fishing still king when it comes to catching visitors

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Although the Kenai Peninsula's professional fishing guides may make landing a Kenai River king salmon look effortless, it's far from easy being a guide these days.

The flocks of visitors which descend upon the peninsula each summer are largely drawn to the area by its wealth of sportfishing opportunities. But catching a monster salmon or halibut usually takes a level of skill and local knowledge not possessed by the average tourist. And that's where guides come in.

Fishing guides are responsible for finding fish, operating the boat, providing fishing tackle, cleaning the fish and often bringing a warm smile and hot cup of coffee to their bleary-eyed clients.

But it's more complex than that. Today's guided fishing industry is a highly competitive -- often controversial -- world that requires its practitioners to be as much businesspeople as they are anglers.

Guiding is a full-time job for Sterling guide Mark Glassmaker. Although he spends each summer fishing the waters on and around the peninsula, Glassmaker must toil all winter long to ensure he'll have clients for the next season. According to Glassmaker, being a fishing guide is a lot more than simply taking people fishing.

"It's definitely a year-round job," Glassmaker said.

During the winter, Glassmaker spends much of his time updating his Web site, contacting potential clients and planning next year's trips. He said he relies heavily on repeat business, and keeping in touch with former and future clients is key to the success of his business.

"What I'll do is suggest a proposed package to them. Some people like all the action, while some can't afford a big trip," he said.

Unlike guides who focus on one particular body of water, Glass-maker offers his clients a variety of options. For clients wanting a quick trip, Glassmaker might take them out on the Kenai or Kasilof rivers for a day of king fishing. For those with more time, he offers fly-out fishing trips across Cook Inlet. He also offers guests lodging and accommodations at his lodge near Wolverine Creek, making his service a "one-stop" destination for eager anglers.

"When people have more than three or four days for fishing, I'll try to recommend a good variety," he said.

Having a diverse group of trips is important in the unpredictable world of sportfishing. The Kenai River often is subject to emergency closures, and guides have to be able to move quickly to find fish for their clients.

Since he relies on repeat business for many of his clients, Glassmaker said it's important to make sure his clients enjoy their stay on the Kenai -- regardless of where the fish happen to be.

"I really work on repeat clientele," he said. "We'll go do a little of everything."

Although they're an integral part of the area's tourism economy, fishing guides have taken much of the blame for overcrowding at local fishing holes, most notably the Kenai River.

In response to concerns, Alaska State Parks recently issued a moratorium on the issuance of new Kenai River guide permits. The moratorium restricts the number of Kenai guides to 348 -- the number operating in 2002.

Guides themselves admit crowding has been a problem on the Kenai, and many support limits on their numbers.

According to Joe Connors, president of the Kenai River Profes-sional Guides Association, guides are mainly a reasonable, professional group committed to doing the best job possible for their clients. Maintaining a well-run, professional operation is key to the survival of guide operations.

"I think the people who are professional about it -- they'll do fine," Connors said.

Connors has spearheaded a movement to regulate guides from within the industry. He said the KRPGA is working toward developing a system of guide monitoring and training that will further enhance the quality of the industry, and he'd like to see some kind of guide board to oversee operations. He likens the concept to professional review boards that ensure its members follow ethical and legal rules.

"Someone has to set that standard," Connors said. "It's no different than any other industry that reviews the efforts of its members."

Connors said the vast majority of fishing guides are reputable, honest members of the community who are just trying to make a living. He pointed to Glassmaker's operation as an example of what a full-service guide operation should be.

"I think we are a good part of this community," Connors said. "Mark, there's an example of a young person that's ideal."

For his part, Glassmaker said he'll simply continue to work through the winter, sharpening his hooks and planning the best fishing trips possible. After all, his business depends on how much fun his clients have.

"What's important to me is that people have a good time," he said.

CREDIT:Photo by M. Scott Moon

CAPTION:Kenai River drift fishers pass bank anglers at the confluence of the Russian River.

BYLINE1:By MATT TUNSETH

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

Although the Kenai Peninsula's professional fishing guides may make landing a Kenai River king salmon look effortless, it's far from easy being a guide these days.

The flocks of visitors which descend upon the peninsula each summer are largely drawn to the area by its wealth of sportfishing opportunities. But catching a monster salmon or halibut usually takes a level of skill and local knowledge not possessed by the average tourist. And that's where guides come in.

Fishing guides are responsible for finding fish, operating the boat, providing fishing tackle, cleaning the fish and often bringing a warm smile and hot cup of coffee to their bleary-eyed clients.

But it's more complex than that. Today's guided fishing industry is a highly competitive -- often controversial -- world that requires its practitioners to be as much businesspeople as they are anglers.

Guiding is a full-time job for Sterling guide Mark Glassmaker. Although he spends each summer fishing the waters on and around the peninsula, Glassmaker must toil all winter long to ensure he'll have clients for the next season. According to Glassmaker, being a fishing guide is a lot more than simply taking people fishing.

"It's definitely a year-round job," Glassmaker said.

During the winter, Glassmaker spends much of his time updating his Web site, contacting potential clients and planning next year's trips. He said he relies heavily on repeat business, and keeping in touch with former and future clients is key to the success of his business.

"What I'll do is suggest a proposed package to them. Some people like all the action, while some can't afford a big trip," he said.

Unlike guides who focus on one particular body of water, Glass-maker offers his clients a variety of options. For clients wanting a quick trip, Glassmaker might take them out on the Kenai or Kasilof rivers for a day of king fishing. For those with more time, he offers fly-out fishing trips across Cook Inlet. He also offers guests lodging and accommodations at his lodge near Wolverine Creek, making his service a "one-stop" destination for eager anglers.

"When people have more than three or four days for fishing, I'll try to recommend a good variety," he said.

Having a diverse group of trips is important in the unpredictable world of sportfishing. The Kenai River often is subject to emergency closures, and guides have to be able to move quickly to find fish for their clients.

Since he relies on repeat business for many of his clients, Glassmaker said it's important to make sure his clients enjoy their stay on the Kenai -- regardless of where the fish happen to be.

"I really work on repeat clientele," he said. "We'll go do a little of everything."

Although they're an integral part of the area's tourism economy, fishing guides have taken much of the blame for overcrowding at local fishing holes, most notably the Kenai River.

In response to concerns, Alaska State Parks recently issued a moratorium on the issuance of new Kenai River guide permits. The moratorium restricts the number of Kenai guides to 348 -- the number operating in 2002.

Guides themselves admit crowding has been a problem on the Kenai, and many support limits on their numbers.

According to Joe Connors, president of the Kenai River Profes-sional Guides Association, guides are mainly a reasonable, professional group committed to doing the best job possible for their clients. Maintaining a well-run, professional operation is key to the survival of guide operations.

"I think the people who are professional about it -- they'll do fine," Connors said.

Connors has spearheaded a movement to regulate guides from within the industry. He said the KRPGA is working toward developing a system of guide monitoring and training that will further enhance the quality of the industry, and he'd like to see some kind of guide board to oversee operations. He likens the concept to professional review boards that ensure its members follow ethical and legal rules.

"Someone has to set that standard," Connors said. "It's no different than any other industry that reviews the efforts of its members."

Connors said the vast majority of fishing guides are reputable, honest members of the community who are just trying to make a living. He pointed to Glassmaker's operation as an example of what a full-service guide operation should be.

"I think we are a good part of this community," Connors said. "Mark, there's an example of a young person that's ideal."

For his part, Glassmaker said he'll simply continue to work through the winter, sharpening his hooks and planning the best fishing trips possible. After all, his business depends on how much fun his clients have.

"What's important to me is that people have a good time," he said.



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