Tourists make do with options

Fishing closures don't deter visitors

Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2002

As it turns out, there is life after king salmon and despite cloudy weather.

Recent closures to the chinook fishery on the Kenai River didn't distress every tourist in Kenai and Soldotna. While, plenty of people visit the area to test their skills on the river and may have had their vacation plans upset, there are still a lot of the tried-and-true tourists who aren't in it for the thrill of the catch.

The traditional tourist -- the RV-driving retired folks who head north for the views and adventure, not the famous fish -- were still out and about Monday afternoon.

"Believe it or not, I didn't even know if I would go fishing once I got here," said Darrell Whitesitt as he rested in his motor home an hour after pulling into the Kenai RV Park in Old Town Kenai.

Whitesitt and his wife, Mary Ann, arrived in Kenai Monday afternoon on the return leg of a loop that began in Anchorage and Matanuska Valley area and took them south to Soldotna, Ninilchik and Homer before heading back north to Denali and Fairbanks by way of Kenai.

He did end up fishing after receiving gift certificates for guided trips on the Kasilof River and out of Ninilchik as a retirement gift from his job in his hometown of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Whitesitt landed two kings on the Kasilof, one 34-pounder and another 21 pounds, before any of the regulations changed, which he said was a good thing because the larger of the two fish would have had to been thrown back.

The two trips satisfied his appetite for fishing, so he said not being able to fish on the Kenai wasn't affecting his plans at all. The couple planned to scope out the town Monday evening and see what they wanted to do with the remainder of their time on the Kenai Peninsula.

Their nearly two-month-long trip will end in the northern part of the state and Canada, but Mary Ann said the peninsula has been her favorite location so far in their travels.

"The traffic was a little heavier than I expected," she said. "Further north all there is to do is drive. Some of the scenery gets pretty monotonous."

Mary Ann said she appreciates the variety of things to do on the peninsula, including the views she enjoyed from the beach in Ninilchik.

"You could see the tide come and go. The first day was beautiful."

Another new visitor, Bob Young, of Des Plaines, Ill., said he blew in with the wind Sunday night and after a short stay would leave early this morning. He too, said fishing on the Kenai was not part of his plans, but the weather had put a slight damper on the trip.

"The weather hasn't been conducive to doing much of anything," he said.

Still, his first trip to Alaska won't leave him completely disappointed.

"It's all been awesome," said the native Midwesterner, who pointed out that for someone from Illinois mountains are always a nice change.

Hal McCommas trekked from Dallas to the peninsula, but despite the distance, he said he is hooked.

He and his wife, Debbie, have been in Alaska since the last week of May and won't leave for another week, but McCommas said he will be back to the peninsula next summer, this time in July.

The McCommases have been splitting their time between sightseeing for her and fishing for him, and they have had luck at both. He landed a king and a sockeye on a guided trip down the Kasilof, and they have also spotted their fair share of wildlife, including a grizzly, black bear, red fox and several moose.

He is still hoping for a halibut once they move further south Wednesday.

One group that did have their plans dashed by the low clouds Monday was a group of four anglers. The three Iowans and one Coloradan had reservations to fly out for king fishing but couldn't because of reduced visibility.

Their revised plans included a drive to Seward to see what the city had to offer before heading back to Anchorage for their flights out of the state today.

However, the disappointed anglers were not excited about the prospect.

"We were supposed to be fishing," said Tom Ulrickson of Manning, Iowa. "We left our wives at home so we wouldn't have to sightsee."

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