For the first time, every guide on the Kenai River this summer will need to have passed the Kenai River Guide Academy.
School's out today for the four-day, intensive course at Kenai Peninsula College's Kenai River Campus. In order to get on the river this summer, guides must pass their oral and written exams.
"I have to guide, I'm booked," said Pete Bucher, about passing the exam this year.
Bucher, 69, of Soldotna, who has been guiding on the Kenai for some 20 years, is among the 25 students in this session of the academy.
The student guides must get 80 out of 100 questions right on the written exam and explain how they would handle a few different river scenarios in front of a panel of peers before they can officially graduate.
"There are no trick questions," said Joe Connors, who is on the board of directors for the academy.
This week's academy is the final time the course is being offered this year before the beginning of the fishing season.
"This is the last time to take it and still guide this year," said Gary Turner, director of Kenai Peninsula College.
After being phased in over the years, the Kenai River Guide Academy is now a requirement for all guides who work on the Kenai, much to the chagrin to some of the older veterans.
"I'm not pleased that I have to be here," said Floyd Ring, 74, of Discovery Bay, Calif. He said this year would be his 22nd year guiding.
But, he said, at least the class was somewhat informative.
"I learned some things from other people around me, like, oh, I didn't think of it that way," Ring said.
Started in 2006, the intensive course aims to make the guiding industry more professional with training on regulations, ethics and ecology.
The $199 course is taught by guides, as well as local, state and federal agency representatives, and college professors, Connors said.
Connors, who also owns of Big Sky Charter & Fishcamp in Sterling, was a member of the Kenai River Working Group that got the academy started. The course began after the state tasked guides with improving the industry on the oft-crowded river, which boasts large stocks of chinook and sockeye salmon.
"One of the ides that popped up was we really needed an educational program for all guides," Connors said.
But one thing is for sure about the academy, Turner said.
"We're not teaching these guys how to fish," he said.
The nine-hour classes include lectures on everything from cultural anthropology to the Alaska Board of Fisheries public process that makes fisheries regulations.
"I've been here 36 years guiding and I learned things about the biology I never knew," Connors said. "The essence of doing it was to make us more knowledgeable about the region and also make us kinder and gentler users of the resource."
Robert Begich, area manager of sport fisheries for the Department of Fish and Game and a lecturer for the academy, said he thinks the academy is great for that reason, among others.
"The thing I really appreciate about this class is it makes them (guides) aware not only of what they're fishing for but of all fisheries resources in the area and how they're assessed," he said.
Begich said it gives guides a good cross-section of what's happening on the river, even if they specialize in fishing only in one particular area or for one particular species.
This is the Kenai River Guide Academy's fourth year and 25th class, Turner said. So far, 525 guides have graduated from the academy to get their Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation commercial operator permit to guide on the Kenai.
"Before the course there used to be a lot of guide citations and a lot of complaints," Turner said. "In the last few years it has virtually gone to zero."
He said the academy gets everybody on the same page, adds credibility to the industry and gives the guides educational conversation starters.
"On that cold, rainy day when the fish aren't biting that's something to talk about," Turner said.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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