The Kenai Guide Ambassador Program, launched by Trout Unlimited Alaska in 2023, empowers fishing guides to practice and promote sustainable angling and fish habitat conservation on the Kenai River.

Kenai Guide Ambassador Program

Alexa showing how to properly love Kenai chrome and getting a great photo.

The Impact of Popularity on the Kenai River

The Kenai River is known and loved by Alaskan residents and visitors alike. The 82-mile-long glacial-fed river sustains four salmon species along with trophy rainbow trout and Dolly Varden populations. This road-accessible river is the state’s most popular sportfishing destination, seeing more than 400,000 angler days per year. During peak sockeye runs you can find anglers cramming the banks, standing shoulder to shoulder, looking to fill their freezers for the year ahead.

With fame and fortune also comes pressure. Although the Kenai is fortunate enough to have healthy fish habitat, the fishery inevitably sees a high level of angling pressure that can have damaging impacts. The phrase “loved to death” describes a major issue the Kenai faces. So, what can be done to help conserve this beloved river and its abundant fisheries?

Alexa Millward, Kenai Peninsula Engagement Coordinator, Trout Unlimited

Anglers are some of the most passionate and educated advocates when it comes to safeguarding rivers. They have wonderful insight into the heartbeat of the river and want to keep it beating strong. Fishing guides spend day in and day out on the river, and with that experience comes knowledge of what impacts the resource.

Kenai Guide Ambassador Program

Trout Unlimited Alaska knows and respects the power of angler advocates, especially fishing guides, so we teamed up with Kenai guides to develop a program that would empower anglers to be stewards of the river and leaders in the name of conservation. In 2023, Trout Unlimited launched the Kenai Guide Ambassador Program.

Fishing guides and businesses have the power to influence hundreds of anglers each season both on and off the water. The goal of the Kenai Guide Ambassador Program is to empower local guides to exemplify, educate, and advocate for minimal-impact angling practices and fish habitat conservation on the Kenai Peninsula. Kenai Guide Ambassadors are dedicated to and passionate about maintaining the health of the river and fisheries. They operate under a fish- first commitment and follow low-impact angling methods with their clients, day in and day out. The program had 18 guides in its inaugural year and will be expanding in the upcoming year. These guides spend the most time on the water and play a powerful role in safeguarding the fish their businesses depend upon.

Kenai Guide Ambassador Program

A resource worth protecting.

Best Practices for Sustainable Angling

Some of the practices the program encourages are effective Catch-and-release tactics including pinching barbs, netting fish with a rubber net, keeping fish in the water, and releasing fish facing into the current. Harvest tactics include harvesting from abundant species like sockeyes, only keeping what you can eat in a year, and caring for your catch in a thoughtful and timely manner. When fishing on foot, it is important to stick to designated paths to avoid disturbing streamside vegetation critical to healthy fish habitat as well as following “leave no trace” principles.

“As a former Kenai River fishing guide, I understand how actions can harm the fishery. Although they seem like small acts, they add up. Launching the Kenai Guide Ambassador Program has been a personal and professional passion of mine. It has given me the opportunity to expand this conservation conversation that once only reached the four clients in my boat, to now working with over 20 guides to help educate their hundreds of clients on ways they, too, can minimize their impact and conserve the fishery.”

Trout Unlimited’s mission is to protect, reconnect and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Learn about our work in Alaska at Alexa Millward is the Kenai Peninsula engagement coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program.

Guide and Community Involvement

Nick Ohlrich, Co-owner/Fishing Guide, Alaska Drift Away Fishing

I am ecstatic to see Trout Unlimited taking a large role in bringing awareness, education, and conservation to the sport and guide community of the Kenai River and look forward to the positive impacts that will occur. The popularity of trout fishing on the Kenai has been on a steady incline with sport anglers for a long time, while the number of guides moving into the trout space has grown dramatically over the past few years.

For those that choose to make a living off a resource, especially a popular one like the Kenai, a dedication to “resource first” is paramount not only for the preservation of an amazing ecosystem, but job security as well. Actions speak louder than words, and the design of the Kenai Guide Ambassador Program is to hold guides to a set of standards which exemplify resource-first angling. The example set forth by this program showcases the actions and commitments of guides daily by displaying proper catch-and-release (C&R), low-impact photos, and overall care for these fragile resident species.

Kenai Guide Ambassador Program

My fat sausage finger got hung in the net. This fish was difficult to fight as well as to photo. A great release and great photo are ideal, but I’ll take a good photo and great release any day.

Future Outlook and Challenges

As the Kenai continues to see more angling pressure for trout and char, the entire community needs to work together and police itself. While many actions can lead to over-handling or adding excessive stress to a fish, bringing fish into the boat to unhook, measure, photo, etc. is the worst thing one can do. Regardless of being part of the ambassador program or not, it is a guide’s responsibility to understand the species they target and know how to properly handle that species as a prerequisite, rather than planning to learn as you go. A cohesion for standards for C&R amongst the guide community will have a positive trickle-down effect to sport anglers, creating a better fishery for all. This concept was easy to grasp for Kenai kings that needed to be released. Theoretically, this small hurdle should be easy to apply to trout.

Alexa has done an incredible job of threading the needle and putting together the Kenai Guide Ambassador Program. This is not a small endeavor. As mentioned, she is an avid sport angler and has guided on the Kenai River. Her knowledge of the guide community and sport fishery puts her in a unique position to bridge the gap between user groups and build a set of standards to benefit the fishery.

Welcoming New Guides to the Kenai Guide Ambassador Program

Moving into its second fishing season, the Kenai Guide Ambassador Program is welcoming a few more guides who are committed to practicing and displaying resource-first guiding. The success of a program like this relies on the actions and credibility of the guides involved and the ability of ambassadors and TU staff to enforce and uphold the mission of the Kenai Guide Ambassador Program. The effort required is small while the impacts this program can have on sustaining an exceptional Kenai River trout fishery are huge.

Nick Ohlrich is co-owner/guide of Alaska Drift Away Fishing, contributing editor of Fish Alaska magazine and a member of the TU Guide Ambassador Program. For more info check out our websites at and

Joining the Kenai Guide Ambassador Program is one way you can contribute to Alaska fishery conservation. Read Fish Alaska’s Conservation Blog for more.