Community members lined up for free food at the Les Anderson Day barbecue Tuesday at the Soldotna Visitor Center. The celebration was in honor of the late Les Anderson, who holds the world record for catching the largest King Salmon.
Photo by Mark Quiner
More than 350 people flooded the front lawn of the Soldotna Visitor Center on Tuesday to pay homage to the late Les Anderson and his world-record king and to eat lunch.
"Les was such a great guy," said Michelle Glaves, executive director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber held a 20th anniversary celebration of the salmon Anderson caught.
The chamber and Soldotna's business community owe a debt of gratitude to Anderson, as his catch is widely credited with helping establish the city as a premier sportfishing destination.
Today, sportfishing is a key component of the city's business community, and summertime visitors bring millions of dollars to the local economy.
According to Kenai Peninsula Borough estimates, the tourism industry accounts for more than 17,000 jobs on the peninsula and a quarter of all taxable sales.
The borough also estimates that the visitor industry bought as much as $27 million in sales to Soldotna in 2003, the last year for which figures are available.
Much of this economic impact is due to the growth in the commercial sportfishing industry. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Kenai River fishing guides in 1985 numbered just 171. Today, there are more than 370 licensed Kenai guides, and guiding is now recognized as an important and influential part of the area's economy.
And most of those fishers have in the back of their minds the idea that they, too, might be able to hook into a gigantic king salmon like Anderson did.
Bud Lofstedt, Anderson's brother-in-law who was there the day the fish was caught, retold the tale of the big catch Tuesday.
Both longtime area residents, they were simply trying to get a line wet on that chilly spring day in 1985.
Lofstedt said Anderson caught a 97-pound, 4-ounce salmon near Honeymoon Cove, a fishing hole located approximately 13 miles upstream from the mouth of the river.
After fighting for nearly an hour, the two had to beach the fish because it would not fit in the net. They then returned to fishing.
Many peninsula residents believe the fish weighed more than 100 pounds when it was first caught, but that because it took more than three hours to get it weighed, it likely lost weight as it dried out.
Glaves said the event was a success because it brought the community together.
She said when the chamber first started planning the event, they were not sure if it would become an annual event. However, now she said they are planning to do it every year. She said they may build on the event in the future and allow people to tell fish tales of their own.
Solidifying this day in Soldotna history, Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey proclaimed May 17 as Les Anderson Day.
Alaska's state balladeer Hobo Jim gave a performance, and a life-size wood carving of Anderson holding a monstrous king salmon was unveiled in front of the visitor center.
"The statue looks exactly like Les," Glaves said.
Les has since passed away, but his wife, Clara Anderson, was at the celebration to witness the unveiling of his statue.
Chamber President Sammy Cole said she knew Anderson personally and enjoyed the event and remembering him.
"He just always cared for people," Cole said.
Clarion reporter Matt Tunseth contributed to this story.
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