Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colorado, is becoming quite a good luck charm.
Allard, a longtime participant in the Kenai River Classic, set a record last year by catching an amazing 14 king salmon in one day. This year, Allard was again a participant in one of the 2004 Classic's most unbelievable fish stories.
It happened aboard guide Jeff King's boat at around 11 a.m. Thursday the first day of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association's annual invitational fishing tournament.
Angler Bob Helm hooked into a big king, but while fighting the fish, ended up getting a big tangle in his line. Normally, this would be a lost fish, but King decided to act quickly to try and salvage the fish.
"I cut the line and tied it to another rod," King said shortly after the incident.
King's last-ditch effort somehow paid off, and the fish was still on the line when it was transferred to the second pole. Shortly after tying "two granny knots" in the line, King was able to net the fish, which weighed about 40 pounds.
"It was a total miracle," King said, as Sen. Allard, his brother, Kermit, and fellow anglers Jack Ferguson congratulated Helm on his unlikely catch.
The story turned out good for the fish, as well, which Helm released back into the river.
By releasing the fish, Helm gained valuable points in the classic, which awards points for both keeping and releasing big Kenai kings. According to KRSA board member Eldon Mulder, releasing the fish is encouraged as part of KRSA's overall mission, which stresses preservation of fish and their habitat.
"Our motto is 'Unique and Forever,'" Mulder said Thursday from the river. "It's not just for today, but for our grandchildren and their kids, too."
This year's classic brought 208 anglers to the Kenai for two days of fishing and fun on the river.
Participants included seven U.S. senators, University of Arizona head basketball coach Lute Olson, former Louisville head basketball coach Denny Crum, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski and a number of prominent business people from major U.S. corporations.
Last year's classic raised more than $1 million for KRSA, which Mulder said is used for a variety of programs ranging from improved angler access to riverbank restoration projects and scholarships.
"What we try to do is allow an opportunity for people to participate in the fishery in an enjoyable way that doesn't endanger critical habitat areas," he said.
Also participating again this year was Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, whose support of the event has been vital to its success. That's because being able to bring up his fellow senators allows Stevens to give members of the federal government a firsthand view of what Alaska is like.
"It gives very good exposure to the Kenai River, the Kenai Peninsula with all these folks from Washington," Mulder said.
That means good things for both the river and the state as a whole, he said.
"Sen. Stevens uses it as a magnet to draw his colleagues to Alaska to witness some of our challenges and some of our problems," Mulder said.
Although Stevens uses the classic to put the spotlight on Alaska, the state's senior senator also has a good time. That was evident Wednesday, as he hauled in a king while fishing with guide Mike Fenton.
While fighting the lunker, the senator appeared to be thinking very little about politics. With an intensity reserved mainly for battles on the Senate floor, Stevens fought the fish for about 10 minutes before Fenton scooped it up in his landing net. Hat turned backward, the senator then helped out as Fenton removed the hook from the big king's mouth.
Stevens then took the net, calmly flipping it over and allowing another king to swim free.
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