Ask Tanner Parker about fishing and he'll tell stories about catching a lingcod as long as his friend Tristen Woltz is tall.
A 12-year-old who's called Alaska home for two years, Tanner has fished in Whittier and Seward and loves to ride his bike in Kincaid Park in Anchorage.
He also knows enough about Alaska politics to discuss the pros and cons of Ballot Measure 4 with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
"It was a really enjoyable conversation," said Tanner, who will start seventh grade at Central Middle School in Anchorage this year. "She totally turned my perspective on Ballot Measure 4."
Tanner's political savvy wasn't lost on the senator, who told him she'd always remember his name.
"He's as informed on Ballot Measure 4 as any Alaskan I've ever met," she said.
But Tanner, and about 150 other boys and girls, didn't come all the way to Harry Gaines Fish Camp from Anchorage on Wednesday to gab about politics, even if it was with a senator. They came to fish, and the Kenai Peninsula Boys and Girls Club, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and the Kenai Professional Guides Association saw to it that they did.
The Kenai Junior Classic brought kids from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Fort Richardson, Anchorage and the central peninsula. Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the kids at the Boys and Girls Club also fished with Murkowski, their honorary host. And most kids brought fish back to their families.
After they finished their hot dogs, Tanner, Tristen and 11-year-old Tyler Barfield piled into a boat driven by Shane Sanders of Alaska Clearwater Sportfishing and Nate Hunemiller, owner of Nate's Bait.
Sanders ferried the three boys past the unfinished cabins at the River Quest subdivision. He stormed past hundreds of seagulls and power boats with anglers vying for the same quarry as the kids. The Pillars boat launch flew by, then Eagle Rock. When Hunemiller finally dropped anchor at Mud Island the boys looked around in astonishment. On either side of the boat humpies, male and female, splashed in the water, leaping completely out at times, as they made their journey upriver.
Tanner, Tyler and Tristen didn't have their lures in the water for long when a fish bit.
"You got him!" Hunemiller yelled, scrambling over chairs to help Tyler pull. "Now you gotta reel."
When a fish bit at Tristen's hook, Hunemiller shouted "We got a double going!"
Tyler and Tristen reeled in with all their strength, but by the time they pulled their lures out of the water the fish were gone.
"It felt like you were fighting a sumo wrestler," Tyler said. "But at least I can't say I didn't catch one."
Tristen and Tyler, students at Orion Elementary in Anchorage, also are newcomers to Alaska, but have had fishing adventures of their own. Tristen said he fishes with his mom and dad at Ship Creek. When Shane brought his first catch into the boat, a bright female humpy, Tristen said his mom would be proud.
"That was cool how I caught mine," he said.
Tyler lived in Orlando, Fla., before his stepdad moved him and his mother to Alaska. His grandfather owned a condominium and Tyler would fish the Florida Everglades for trout, snapper and even shark, he said.
"I catch whatever I can possibly catch," he said.
The humpies made an eager play for the lures Wednesday, but the boys were after silvers. Tanner wasn't the first to bring in a fish, but he was the first to bring in a silver.
"I still got him! I still got him!" he yelled as he cranked the reel.
When Tanner brought his fish on board, Sanders estimated its weight at between 10 and 11 pounds. Tanner had hooked it right through the bottom of its mouth and said when he brought it home his mom would grill it with lemons, fresh green beans and maybe a brown sugar glaze.
Not long after Tristen brought his own silver in, Murkowski came up alongside the boat.
"Show me the fish," she said.
Tristen and Tanner held up their silvers. When Murkowski asked them if they'd name it, Tanner called his Bartholomew.
"Lovely," the senator said.
Tanner and Tristen's silvers were the only two that bit, but Tyler and the two boys still had fun fighting the droves of pinks that came to their boat. As they disembarked back at the fish camp, Shane handed out fishing flies for the boys to stick on their life vests.
"It's always fun when you're catching fish," he said.
"No matter what they are," Tanner added.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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