College to become school of fish

KPC to educate anglers at Kenai Fishing Academy this summer

Posted: Thursday, April 03, 2003

Parents and spouses: Don't be surprised if a child or significant other starts talking excitedly about spending a chunk of this summer in school.

That's because the Kenai Fishing Academy has made summer school cool.

The academy, a project of Kenai Peninsula College, will open this summer with one fishing class and one fly-fishing class.

Each 20-student class offers five full days of instruction, with the fishing class running from June 16 to 20 and the fly-fishing class going from July 14 to 18.

Students dedicated enough to sacrifice a portion of their summers to education will be forced to endure fly-in fishing trips, guided fishing trips on the Kenai River and saltwater cruises for salmon and halibut.

Not only that, but during these trips the students will have to force themselves to pay attention as those with years of fishing experience on the Kenai Peninsula dish up tip after juicy tip.

And even after the week of class is over, students will most likely still have a bit of homework left over -- that homework being the arduous task of cooking up and eating fresh fish.

Man oh man, talk about the rigors of higher education.

"It's kind of like a summer camp for adults," said Dave Atcheson, the coordinator of the academy. "What a way to spend a week.

"I haven't seen anything like this. I hope we're on the cutting edge."

The academy is the brainchild of Gary Turner, the director of Kenai Peninsula College.

"I've seen too many people come up here and have a tough time catching fish," said Turner, a lifelong fishing enthusiast who has fished Alaska from the Yukon River to Ketchikan. "These people have the option of going with a guide, but the purpose of a guide is to get you fish, not to teach you how to fish."

When Turner and Atcheson set about designing the academy over Christmas break, their goal was to give students not the ability to catch fish for a week, but the knowledge to catch fish for a lifetime.

In other words, students shouldn't expect anybody to be baiting their hooks for them.

Atcheson, who has fished on the peninsula since 1985 and has taught popular fly-fishing classes at the college the past two years, was charged with finding fishing instructors.

At a college just a cast away from the world-famous Kenai River, that task proved as hard as rounding up a bunch of top-notch computer programmers in Silicon Valley.

"The thing that's great is that the students will be exposed to so many different perspectives," said Atcheson, who will be one of the instructors. "We've got people with so many different areas of expertise."

Among the instructors assembled are:

• Tony Weaver -- Weaver has been guiding in Alaska, and has been an Alaska resident, for 36 years. He is known throughout the fly-fishing world for his casting techniques and teaching acumen.

• Bo Ansel -- Ansel has been a registered fishing guide on the Kenai Peninsula for 18 years. He owns Bo's Fishing Guide Service.

• Curt Trout -- Atcheson says that Trout probably knows the upper Kenai River better than anyone. Trout owns Alaska Troutfitters and has fished the Kenai River for the past 15 years, creating new ways to cast and present a fly.

"These guys will teach things that are designed specifically to work on the Kenai River, but the things they teach also can be applied anywhere you fish," Atcheson said.

The fishing will come in the afternoon. In the morning, students will get a total of 20 hours of classroom instruction.

"It's a natural thing for this to be associated with the college," Turner said. "That lets students tap into the knowledge of professors."

Among those who will be instructing at the academy are:

• Dr. Stephen Stringham -- Stringham is an adjunct professor at Kenai Peninsula College and Matanuska-Susitna College. He is heavily involved with a number of bear groups and has raised three orphaned grizzly bear cubs that were later released into the wild. He will teach students wildlife safety.

• Dr. Dave Wartinbee -- Wartinbee is a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College. He will teach students river biology, hydrology and fish characteristics.

"When I'm fishing, I also see a lot of people that don't respect the resource," Turner said. "Part of creating an educated angler is getting people to respect that resource.

"This is a pretty special place. We should take care of it."

• Wayne Engle -- Engle is an adjunct professor with the University of Alaska's Mining and Petroleum Training Service. He is a retired Army Special Forces warrant officer who has taught survival techniques throughout the world for 26 years. Engle will teach academy students boat safety and cold-water survival techniques.

In addition to fishing techniques, classroom time also will be spent on caring for an angler's catch. Ansel will instruct students on filleting, freezing, smoking and canning.

Then, of course, there are the afternoon fishing trips.

Those in the fishing class get a walk-in river trip, a guided river trip, a fly-in lake or river trip and a guided salmon and halibut saltwater trip. The location of the trips depends on the location of the fish.

Students in the fishing class staying at Alaska Christian College, a five-minute walk from KPC, will pay between $1,240 and $1,285 (depending on cabin choice) for meals, lodging, classes and trips. Day students will pay $980.

Those in the fly-fishing class get two walk-in river trips, a fly-in lake or stream trip and a daylong drift boat trip on the upper Kenai River.

Students in the fly-fishing class staying at Alaska Christian College will pay between $1,275 and $1,320. Day students will pay $1,015.

Also, it is recommended that students purchase and read Atcheson's book, which is called "Fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula," before attending the class.

"We wanted to make it affordable, but we wanted to make it a great experience, too," Turner said. "When people come up here, they expect fabulous fishing experiences like the fly-in trips."

Added Atcheson: "When you add up how much those trips would cost on their own, plus add in all that classroom instruction, you're getting a good deal."

Word about the academy is just starting to trickle out in press releases, brochures and on the Internet.

"The reaction has been totally positive from everyone," Turner said. "A lot of people say it's something that should have been done a long time ago. They're surprised nobody has done it already."

Atcheson is expecting the 40 slots to fill up quickly because the academy appeals to such a wide cross section of anglers. With so many instructors, the academy will be able to service all levels of anglers.

"I figured this would appeal to people without a lot of experience," Atcheson said. "I have a friend in Anchorage who has fished here for 20 years. He took a look at some of the people involved with this and wanted to do it because he felt he could still learn a lot.

"That surprised me."

Turner is hoping to see the fishing academy grow to six to eight classes in the summer of 2004. This summer's classes will not earn college credit, but Turner and Atcheson hope the classes in 2004 will earn college credit.

Turner also would like this class to be the beginning of a more intense foray into outdoor education at the college. Already, the college is offering a "Nature: Pictures and Prose" course to coincide with the academy sessions.

To reserve a spot in the class, or to find out more information, call 262-0300 and ask for the Kenai Fishing Academy. Information also is available at http://

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