It's difficult to think of Kenai or Soldotna without thinking of the Kenai River. It's the lifeblood that nourishes both communities. We are drawn to its beauty, sustained by the fish that return each year.
Most of us flock to the river, understandably. And every summer we are in awe of such a magnificent creation that carries so many salmon back to their origins.
It's a given that what draws us into the aquamarine flow also mesmerizes those from afar. Be it Anchorage or Asia, the Kenai River has made a name for itself, and people want to experience it.
Unfortunately, some of those wading into the glacier-fed river are finding themselves in murky waters.
Whether tossing a line or dipping a net, the Kenai River also can be dangerous ground. Some people are finding out the hard way hook, line and sinker.
Every year anglers get hooked on fishing, and not necessarily in a good way. Central Peninsula General Hospital tallied 109 injuries last year and have half that many so far this season.
However, it isn't just the tourists who are feeling the pain of fishing. Hospital officials say locals are just as afflicted as those from out of town. A hook in the arm, the leg, the hand these things add up. But some are much more serious. Some have managed to land a hook in or near their eye, causing irreparable damage. One nurse noted that a sinker snapped back and shattered a person's glasses.
Another serious issue that comes up every year on the river is dipnetters getting snagged from the shoreline in the tide flow. Wading out a little too far to get a better advantage will give you an edge, all right the edge of the current that's heading out to sea. Respect the power of the river.
In the last week, three dipnetters found themselves in that situation. Luckily, all were rescued and not seriously injured. Last summer, a man died.
When the fish are hitting, it's easy to get caught up in the moment and the frenzy. The best idea is to plan ahead to avoid a bad fishing day.
For starters, make sure you have all the right paperwork. Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement Troopers are patrolling for those who don't know better or who do and think they can slip by undetected. Every year troopers spend hours and hours on the river making sure anglers are playing by the rules. That's their job.
Getting the right license and knowing and following the laws makes everyone's experience more pleasant. What you think may be a hassle now will definitely become one when you're caught trying to skirt the law.
Be prepared in other ways, as well. At the Russian River ferry, safety glasses are available to borrow. They're hanging right with the personal flotation devices (PFDs) provided for children as part of the Kids Don't Float program. PFDs are a good choice for young and old anytime you're near the water. Two of those swept away last week were a father and son.
Another concern is clothing. Hypothermia sets in quickly in cold water. Thermal underwear and wool socks help retain body heat under chest waders and hip boots. Dress in layers. Include a hat. It's much better to hook your hat than your head. Plus, it also helps keep you warm.
Fish with a buddy. As simple as this sounds, it's easier to get out of trouble if someone is there to help.
Be aware of your surroundings. Is there good footing? What's around you? Is there wildlife?
The list goes on.
The draw of the Kenai River can be powerful. We know, we've felt it. The best way in which one can be prepared before giving into that power is to use common sense. Do a little homework, take a little time and don't become a statistic.
Be safe and smart on the river so you can enjoy it again.
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