On his first experience fishing for king salmon, which was Sunday, 11-year-old Billy St. Clair clearly remembers the specifics of the monster he reeled out of the Kenai River.
The Sterling resident pointed out it was 44.4 inches and 66.5 pounds.
"I was kind of tickled," St. Clair said.
His grandmother can attest to that.
"When I picked him up, he was so excited I had to calm him down," said Esther Walker, St. Clair's grandmother.
St. Clair was one of about 80 kids who participated in a two-day event aimed at bringing children, senior citizens and the rest of the community together to celebrate the return of the salmon to the Kenai Peninsula. Sunday, area fishing guides took kids on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers to go fishing in Take A Kid Fishing Day. The following day, some of the fish caught were brought to Heritage Place, a skilled nursing facility in Soldotna, for the third annual Return of the Salmon Celebration sponsored by a variety of community organizations.
"There's definitely a rhythm to the community based on the fish," said Vincent O'Reilly, a new Heritage Place resident as he enjoyed some music at Monday's celebration.
The Return of the Salmon Celebration is an event that celebrates the annual salmon run by serving the community a meal including salmon, halibut and clams.
John Nelson, one of the founders and co-chair of the Return of the Salmon Celebration, said fish often is a source of division in the community. He said the celebration was started to help unite people around the resource.
With about 200 people enjoying the recently caught salmon, halibut, clams and Oreo cookies, the Heritage Place lawn was jumping as seniors wearing straw hats and other party attire feasted on Alaska's bounty and listened to music from Lucky Kirk, Dudley Abbott and Bunny Swan Gease.
In the meantime, St. Clair and other children quickly ate their food and ran around the yard afterward playing games and snatching cookies to replenish their energy.
St. Clair pointed out that while he enjoyed catching the fish the previous day and being out on the river, he also was pleased to share his catch with others.
Walker said St. Clair also was excited to come to the celebration to help "feed and share."
Tyland Van Lier, a fishing guide and co-chair of both events, said the two events are important because it brings elders and kids together.
"It gives kids a chance to help the elders," he said.
Dennis Murray, administrator of Heritage Place and the other founder of the celebration, said the residents always enjoy a party.
"It begins the summer for the residents," he said, adding that many people in the community celebrate the return of the salmon.
"It's important to everybody. Everybody has a piece of the river," he said.
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