July on the Kenai Peninsula means one thing to most people — fishing. Even if you don’t put a line in the water, it’s likely your friends, neighbors, co-workers or certainly the people in line ahead of you at the store do.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center has you covered this week.
“Fish week at the refuge is all about everything fish, so, not just fishing, but we started out on Tuesday talking about the anatomy of fish and what fish need to survive — so, habitat and what makes a healthy stream. Things like that,” said Leah Eskelin, park ranger with the visitors services department at the refuge.
Wednesday, it was classes to prepare people to fish — fly tying, fly casting, knot tying and casting with a spinning reel. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are about how to process fish, how to use old fish in the freezer and how to smoke and can salmon.
Most of these classes are ones the refuge has offered before. But Eskelin says they wanted to put them all in one week to give people an intensive, fish 101 experience.
“One thing that I noticed, I didn’t grow up in Alaska. A lot of the things I learned about fish and fishing I’ve learned since I arrived here as an adult. There aren’t that many opportunities to gain those skills, unless you are kind of put under someone’s wing,” Eskelin said. “So this was an attempt to give access to those skills. Especially Thursday and Friday, which is, really, a lot of that processing — you know, unless grandma taught you, where do you go to learn those things?”
Any age is welcome to any class, though fish processing might be a little much for a 5-year-old, and the two-foot spinning rods used in the casting class Wednesday would have been difficult for adult hands. But Eskelin says there’s something for everyone every day of Fish Week.
“The intention of this week is to provide, throughout the course of each day, things to do for anyone — any ability, any background, any experience, local, here for a day. There’s no limiting factor there,” Eskelin said.
The students in the spinning reel class Wednesday were all taller than the kid-sized rods, though some not by much. Eskelin started out with the safety spiel — be safe around the water, always wear a life jacket, hat and glasses, and be careful of where you’re casting.
“If you notice that I didn’t cast wildly, I didn’t have to put it over my head like this. Some people feel like they really have to get going like a batter. It’s not baseball, it’s fishing, right? The important thing is that you look side to side, back behind you and in front of you before you cast. That way you know where your risk is,” Eskelin said.
Eskelin set wooden targets in the yard that were painted like salmon with holes cut out for the mouths. The kids quickly learned the necessary lesson of patience.
“Has anyone got a fish in the mouth yet?” Eskelin asked.
“I caught something!”
“I think that’s a rose,” Eskelin said.
A full schedule of Fish Week activities is posted on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge page on Facebook.