Smoke and high water have not deterred dignitaries and celebrities from the eighth annual Kenai River Classic. The invitational salmon tournament, which began Thursday night, has attracted a record number of participants this year.
The Classic, organized by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association Inc., raises funds for habitat preservation, restoration, research and public education for the benefit of the Kenai River and its fish.
"We are a bigger tournament than we were last year," Brett Huber, the association's executive director, said during a break Thursday.
Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and Gov. Tony Knowles are honorary hosts of the event, which attracts national government and business leaders and celebrities.
This year, guests include four senators, four members of President George W. Bush's Cabinet and state officials including Senate President Rick Halford, House Speaker Brian Porter and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue.
This year, 180 people are participating, compared with 160 last year, Huber said.
"The reports I'm hearing from the river are that the fishing is going pretty well," he added.
The unusually high water in the Kenai River, which nearly reached flood stage in some areas last week, has not interfered. Nor did Thursday's gray skies.
Huber said Classic organizers are relieved that the water did not get any higher and were optimistic about weather forecasts calling for sunny skies.
The first official event was a welcome dinner, sponsored by Verizon Communications, at the home of Bob and Jeannie Penney Thursday night.
The actual tournament fishing contest takes place today and Saturday.
This evening, all participants are invited to an awards presentation, a banquet (sponsored by AT&T Alascom) and auction (sponsored by Lockheed Martin). The awards will include the Kenai Eagle Awards, which recognize private property owners and public land managers for exemplary efforts in restoring and protecting river habitat. The sport fishing association also will present its Ted Stevens Kenai River Guardian Award.
Saturday evening the Classic will end with a riverside barbecue sponsored by VECO and Alaska Communications Systems. Tournament awards for the top anglers and guide will be presented.
Yamaha Marine, prime sponsor of this year's Classic, will present an outboard motor to the winning guide.
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