Fishing for an education

Posted: Sunday, July 02, 2006

First-time visitors to the Kenai Peninsula hoping to hone their angling chops on its glacial waters have a variety of options from which to cull the initial knowledge necessary to attack the task.

A visit to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is a good way to start, as are trips to the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center or the Soldotna Visitors Center.

Reading the regulations is, of course, a must for any first-timer. Discussions with locals or clerks at bait and gear shops can help, too.

This season, however, the options for learning about the Kenai River should be more accessible, consistently available and entertaining.

The Soldotna Visitors Center is home base for one of the new educational options. Each day at 11:30 a.m., the center offers a guided dock walk tour that starts at the center and meanders down to the Kenai River Classic Fish Walk.

Brochures with information on salmon runs, wildlife, safety and frequently asked questions are handed out and discussed during the tour, and the brochures are given to dock walk trekkers for future reference.

“We try of give them an overall idea of what the river is about and answer questions like ‘why is the water green?’” said Michelle Glaves, executive director for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

A newly consistent flow of cruise ship-originating bus tour visitors opened the doors to making the dock walk a daily happening, Glaves said. The walks, which started June 15 and run through Aug. 15, began as weekly walks on Monday afternoons designed to serve those visitors.

“In the past, we’d only have about four buses each summer, but this year Holland America sends one every week,” Glaves said.

The information provided during the 15-minute tour was always available at the center, but the brochures, posters in the center and the concise, daily program are new this year.

The brochures and posters were paid for by money from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a group that also provided some facts and figures to the presentation. The group also awarded scholarships to two of the walk’s guides: 2006 Nikiski High School graduate J.R. Cox and 2005 graduate Paul Morin.

The pair will spend a lot of time talking about the Kenai River this summer. In addition to free dock walks, fish fans can pay $10 per person to see them in the hourlong comedy “Fish On!” at 1, 3 or 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at the Triumvirate Theatre in Soldotna through July 29.

The show, designed as a fact-heavy primer on Kenai River fishing with a light, comic touch, covers topics such as bait and fly selection for the fish, questions to ask a potential fishing guide and the importance of following fish and game regulations.

“In Alaska, you’re better off robbing a bank than breaking a Fish and Game rule. That’s just how it is,” Morin says during the play.

“Fish On!” is geared for those with little or no knowledge of fishing the Kenai, but its presentation should appeal to residents, as well. Cox, playing a private detective for one sketch, speaks of the river’s salmon species as criminals to be apprehended. Les Anderson’s fight with the world record-holding 97.4 pound king is re-imagined as a light saber battle, with Morin playing the area’s most famous fish and Cox the famous angler.

There’s even a musical number, with Morin on the fiddle, called “The Devil Went Down to Kenai.”

Ricky Gease, the sportfishing group’s director, said the show had him “laughing hysterically.”

“You would think it could be a lot of dry information, but they did a great job of keeping it light,” he said.

The play’s director and writer, Triumvirate Theatre President Joe Rizzo, approached Gease about sponsoring the show earlier this year. Funds raised from the production go back into the Triumvirate’s children’s theater programs.

Gease said his group’s goal of educating the public on river-related issues and the theatre’s goal of entertaining the swarms of sportfishing tourists meshed well in the finished product.

“It’s all about presenting information in a more engaging format,” he said.

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