Send your visitors to school ... fishing school

Around Campus

Posted: Wednesday, May 12, 2004

KPC's Kenai River campus is preparing for the second year of the Kenai Fishing Academy (KFA), the only anglers "college" in Alaska. The academy is the brainchild of KPC Director Gary Turner, who patterned the program after golf academies he attended in the Lower 48. Last summer, two one-week sessions one centered on spin and bait casting techniques and the other covering the finer points of fly fishing were successfully launched. So much so, that four sessions, two in each discipline, are scheduled for this summer.

KFA is an intensive one-week curriculum that combines 20 classroom hours learning fishing techniques from experts. This is followed up with hands-on fishing practice with top Alaska guides and instructors at some of the best fishing spots on the Kenai Peninsula, including the world famous Kenai River.

The intent of the Kenai Fishing Academy is to educate fishers to become more proficient in the catching and handling of fish and to become better stewards of the environment that supports the resource. During the program, students learn about fish characteristics, lure selection, casting techniques and other skills that increase fishing success. In addition, students learn about the history of the waters of Southcentral Alaska, their biology, how to deal with Alaska wildlife and bears that may be encountered in the quest for fish. The academy takes students through various fish processing techniques, such as how to filet, smoke, can and freeze the prizes they pull from Alaska's pristine waters.

During the course, students fly into remote locations for field experience to complement their classroom learning, and both courses of study culminate in a full day of guided fishing. General fishing students will fish for king salmon and barn-door size halibut in Cook Inlet, while fly fishing students will experience drift-boat fishing on the upper Kenai River.

The Kenai Fishing Academy is coordinated by local author and KPC night coordinator Dave Atcheson. Atcheson's recently published book, "Fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula," is evidence of his expertise and abilities to head-up the academy. Atcheson has lived on the Kenai Peninsula since 1985 and is an expert in his own right when it comes to sport fishing in Alaska. He has worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and has written for Alaska Magazine, Fly Fishing Quarterly, Outdoor Life, Fish Alaska Magazine and other publications. Atcheson is one of the primary instructors in the program and also teaches a fly fishing class at Kenai Peninsula College, either at the Kenai River or the Kachemak Bay campus, most spring semesters.

The other instructors who contribute to the core curriculum of the academy are an impressive lot.

Tony Weaver is renowned throughout the fly fishing world for his innovative casting techniques and teaching abilities. He has been an Alaska resident and guide for 36 years. He is the Alaska Council president for the Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF), an FFF certified master fly-casting instructor and serves on the FFF Casting Advisory Committee. He is the chief technical editor for Fish Alaska Magazine and has written for Fish and Fly, FFF Flyfisher and Flyfisherman magazines. He has fished Alaska extensively from the Arctic to Prince of Wales Island and also works as a consultant for Teeny Nymph and Frontier Fly companies.

Bo Ansel has been a registered professional fishing guide for 18 years on the Kenai Peninsula and is the owner of Bo's Fishing Guide Service ( Ansel guides for salmon and trout on the Kenai Peninsula and for halibut and other saltwater species in Cook Inlet. He is a member of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association and sits on a committee dealing with early king salmon run issues. He assists KFA students in the field, where they benefit from his years of experience.

Dr. Dave Wartinbee is a biology professor at KPC during the spring and fall and teaches river biology, hydrology and fish characteristics for KFA. He has a Ph.D. in biology and a J.D. in law (he's a member of the bar in Alaska and Pennsylvania), and he is a certified paramedic, the author of numerous publications and a former Peace Corps volunteer. He is a board member of the Kenai Watershed Forum and monitors the water quality and insect populations of the Kenai River.

Curt Trout is the owner of Alaska Troutfitters, rated as one of the top fly-fishing guide services on the Kenai Peninsula. He is a certified fly-fishing instructor and inventor of the extended loop dead drift. He has fished the Kenai River for the last 15 years and is the creator of many new and innovative casting and presentation skills. Curt has written for Flyfisherman Magazine and Fish Alaska Magazine.

Larry Lewis teaches wildlife safety for KFA, the component of the program that emphasizes taking appropriate precautions in the wilds of Alaska. Lewis is a wildlife technician III with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Division of Wildlife Conservation and has been with the department for more than 10 years. He's worked in various field capacities over the years and has been directly involved with bear research and management, including wildlife mitigation work, for the last eight of those 10 years.

Richard Kelso, originally from Ireland, is an avid fly fisher and world traveler. Kelso is a teacher at Nikiski Elementary School and often can be found plying the local waters with his fly rod.

Joe McCullough, with the Alaska Division of Parks' Office of Boating Safety, teaches boat safety and cold-water survival techniques.

Tony Lewis is an avid fly fisher and fly tyer, who has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 12 years. He has worked as a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion, as well as freelanced for several outdoor magazines.

Linda Taunenbaum, with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, teaches students the importance of safe fish processing and smoking techniques.

These experts constitute the faculty for the KFA. Together they deliver the knowledge that helps students become educated anglers. Graduates not only understand how to fish, but how to fish responsibly, safely and efficiently.

The academy is turning out to be the best adult summer camp in Alaska. Housing and meal packages are available through a partnership with Alaskan Christian College, just down the road from KPC, for folks from out of town. Day packages also are available and a perfect fit for those visiting relatives who just can't get enough fishing. They can learn how and where to fish without you.

Limited space still is available in both the hard tackle and fly fishing courses this summer. Visit the KFA Web site for dates and rates at or call 262-0300 for more information.

This column is provided by Suzie Kendrick, community relations coordinator at Kenai Peninsula College.

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