Guides honor vets with Kenai River fishing trip

Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2002

An armada of Kenai River fishing guides hit the water Wednesday with boats staffed by crews of former soldiers, airmen and sailors.

The full frontal attack on the river's abundant silver salmon population was the guides' way of thanking Alaska's veterans for their contributions to America's freedom.

According to Steve McClure, vice president of the Kenai River Professional Guides Association, the guides believed the trip would be an appropriate way to commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Being 9-11, we thought it was an important thing to do," McClure said.

He said the guide association is trying to host a special, charity day of fishing annually.

"We had our first one last year, where we took the kids out. It just seemed fitting on 9-11 this year to do it for the vets," he said.

The event was co-sponsored by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and Alaska State Parks.

About 30 veterans from Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula participated in the event, divided among 12 volunteer guide boats. Most fished the upper section of the lower Kenai River, upriver from Bing's Landing in Sterling. The silvers weren't always silver, many having been in the river for a week or more, but they were abundant.

Bob Kelly and Thomas Mazonna traveled from Anchorage for the day's fishing. The two Army veterans fished with Joe Connors of Big Sky Charters. After two hours of fishing, they had a limit of salmon -- two of which were bright silver, fresh from the ocean.

"I caught that good-looking one," joked Mazonna, pointing to a bright, fresh silver.

Kelly, proudly holding a reddish-tinted, 8-pound fish, said he was just happy to have the opportunity to get out and enjoy the river.

"Real hard to beat for a free trip," he said.

Connors, who also is president of the KRPGA, said the veterans' attitudes made the day worthwhile for him.

"They were good people. They were like a bunch of professionals," he said.

Following a successful morning of fishing, both guides and the veterans seemed genuinely pleased with the day's outcome. Especially Mazonna, who said he hadn't been sport fishing in years before Wednesday's trip.

"I've been involved in processing for seven years, but I haven't really had a chance to go fishing. It's nice to get out of the city," he said.

"This was pretty cool."

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