William Todd-Mancillas, from Chico, Calif., reacts as he hooks onto a Dolly Varden trout during the Kenai Fishing Academy class on Quartz Creek in Cooper Landing, Alaska July 22, 2005. Todd-Mancillas came to Alaska to be part of The Kenai Fishing Academy, a weeklong class offered four times per summer by Kenai Peninsula College.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
COOPER LANDING Curt Muse stood on the cobbled shore of a creek, casting a 3-weight fly rod upstream as a dozen students all middle-aged or older watched.
Muse was the day’s guest lecturer for the Kenai Fishing Academy, a weeklong class offered four times a summer by Kenai Peninsula College, a branch of the University of Alaska Anchorage.
As the students looked on, the longtime guide spotted a sockeye salmon, red as a fire hydrant but easy to miss swimming above colored rocks and below the rippled surface.
“You can barely see that fish and he’s red,” Muse observed.
Now in its third year, the noncredit course is aimed at fishing novices or anglers new to Alaska who want to avoid learning by reading how-to books or trolling for tips from salesmen at sporting goods stores.
The academy was the brainchild of Gary Turner, the college’s director and an avid fisherman who helps teach classes.
“I thought, we need to educate people and teach them how to fish,” Turner said. “It just seemed natural.”
The college takes up 900 feet of riverbank on the Kenai River, known for its world-class rainbow trout and king, sockeye and silver salmon.
“We’re trying to push our education mission to meet the avocations of people, or their external interests,” Turner said.
Turner turned the idea over to Dave Atcheson, the college’s night class coordinator and the author of a book on Kenai Peninsula fishing.
Atcheson assembled friends, guides and local experts to put on a week’s worth of classes and outings.
For about $1,100 $300 more with food and housing the college offers 20 hours of classroom time and field trips that include flying to a remote lake, an excursion to the ocean or a float trip down the Kenai River. The tuition is in the same price range as that of booking individual day trips, said Atcheson, who also worked for the state as a fish and game technician.
“The idea is to teach people how to fish, but also to teach them all that goes along with being a good steward of the land and resources,” Atcheson said.
In the general fishing class, students backtroll for king salmon, bounce herring off the ocean floor for halibut and fling spinners for trout.
In the fly fishing class, students learn the basics of casting and fly selection, then try to catch sockeye salmon, rainbow trout or Dolly Varden in streams, rivers and lakes.
Classroom sessions focus on gear and topics that novices may overlook, such as river hydrology, insect life, filleting fish, cold water survival and bear encounters.
Mike Todd, a surgeon, moved from San Francisco to Anchorage seven years ago. He took both classes with his brother, William Todd-Mancillas.
“I had never gotten out and done this,” Mike Todd said as he tied a tapered leader with knots he’d learned in the classroom. “It’s such a drag being in Alaska and not knowing how to fish.”
His brother, who teaches interpersonal communications at California State University, Chico, cheerfully acknowledged his lack of skills.
“I know nothing about fishing,” Todd-Mancillas said. “I’m starting from the ground up. Even if I retain 20 percent, that will be infinitely more than I knew before.”
Several students had fished previously, but not with a fly rod.
“It’s a lot easier than I make it out to be,” said Dan Zelenko, who wanted angling skills after retiring to Wyoming’s Jackson Hole this year.
Dan and his brother, Ron, came in expecting to be bored by the 20 hours of classroom time. They were pleasantly surprised by their interest in river hydraulics and entomology.
“It’s just amazing what goes on in these rivers,” Ron Zelenko said.
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