Learning to think like a fish

Educated angler can better enjoy fishing experience

Posted: Friday, July 18, 2003

Despite the fact that fish are entering the Kenai River by the thousands, it's still possible to spot anglers that haven't managed to hook a thing -- many of them flogging water just a cast away from another fisher who's reel is starting to smoke from constantly pulling in fish.

The difference? Often, it's just a little bit of knowledge about the fish, how they move through the river, and why a certain type of tackle or technique might work at a certain time or in a certain place.

The Kenai Fishing Academy at Kenai Peninsula College has billed itself as "The Home of the Educated Angler." During its inaugural session last month, participants discovered that an understanding of the environment, from fish biology to river hydrology, can enhance the fishing experience -- and might even lead to catching more fish.

"I think it's a necessity to understand the dynamics of a river, and how it affects fish location and habitat," said Steve Lyons, and Anchorage retiree attending in the academy with his wife, Sue. "By understanding those things, you know where to go for fish, instead of just flogging water."

Indeed, knowledge is power -- or at least a confidence boost when it comes to fishing an unfamiliar stretch of water.

As proof, Sue Lyons offered up the Kenai River king salmon she had landed earlier in the week.

"I've never caught a Kenai king -- I had to wait until I retired," she said.

Dennis Gease provided similar testimony.

"I understand the nuances of little things I had not recognized before and hadn't paid attention to before," Gease said. "Now I do. I got my first king (this week), and I have to believe (learning about the river) helped some."

The academy offered up several classroom sessions on gear and tactics, river hydrology, wildlife behavior and safety, and boat safety with an emphasis on cold-water survival, all to complement the guided on the water sessions.

Many of the academy participants considered themselves novice anglers, at least in Kenai Peninsula waters, while others were fairly experienced. As Dr. David Wartinbee explained during a session on river hydrology, biology and salmon life cycles, much of the information provided in the classroom sessions simply explained the science behind successful fishing techniques.

For example, after explaining why a red salmon will choose a particular spot for a redd, Wartinbee added that the perfect spot to cast for a rainbow trout or Dolly Varden would be just downstream from that type of spot, where they would be waiting to gobble up any loose eggs.

"Those of us that are fishermen have been doing it for years," Wartinbee said. "Maybe we just didn't realize why."

Armed with the reasons why, academy participants also were able to glean some "how-to" knowledge, further boosting their confidence once they were streamside.

"There were things I learned here that I probably wouldn't have learned -- the guides don't tell you everything," said Mike San Angelo. "That's not to say these guys tell you everything, but you learn more than if you took a trip and had a guide bait your hook for you."

In fact, Sue Lyons said she received a great compliment from her husband when he noted she could do everything herself, from selecting a lure to landing a fish.

"I can take care of myself," she said, "so my husband can enjoy himself more."

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