I am a recent “convert” to fly fishing, so when I was asked if I’d like to travel to Alaska for the ultimate fly fishing trip, I quickly agreed. A few months later I was finally on a jet headed northbound. I “knew” I’d be the lone woman but I don’t think I realized what that would really mean. The reality was an extreme fishing experience with 14 die-hard fishermen, six hardcore, experienced guides and, of course, bears. Not sweet, cuddly “Teddy” bears but rather the kind that leave behind 12” paw prints!
My first clue that I might be in deeper than I knew was on the small airplane that took us from Anchorage to King Salmon (which boasts a population of about 400 during winter months). There are no roads in or out of King Salmon: You arrive by boat or airplane only. I knew I was in for it when the steward welcomed me aboard this 30 seater plane by saying: “Oh good we’ve got a woman on this trip!” When I arrived at the airport and looked around a crowded room that had a zillion guys and about 4 women, I knew I was headed for an interesting week.
Our first stop after leaving the airport was the combination party and grocery store to purchase our choice of alcohol, pop and snacks for the week. The prices were shocking: $10 for a fresh pineapple that I suspected may have been left over from WWII.
To be honest, every guy there was wonderful. Yes, I could tell (some faces are just easier to read than others) that not everyone was exactly thrilled to have a woman in camp. But each and every one of them was (my favorite word): AMAZING. Most were thinking I wouldn’t last more than 2 days, but they never said that out loud until the end of the week.
We stayed at the Katmai Trophy Lodge, situated at the base of the rapids on the Naknek River. It’s a beautiful log lodge with five bedrooms with an additional two separate cabins that sleep up to 3 guests each. Rugged but charming, this location had so much wilderness I was thrilled to see a big, fat porcupine wandering the property! Our host for the week was Larry Risbridger from southwest Michigan. The lodge manager is James Johnson. For more information or pictures check out: www.Katmaitrophylodge.com!
Up every day by 5:30, seated at the breakfast table by 7 for a “man-sized” breakfast and on the boats by 8:00 am, we made sure to be completely dressed in layers of clothes, waders and boots. While five species of Pacific Salmon swim the river, we were only allowed to keep the silver salmon, 5 per person per day. The lodge dressed the fish, froze them and readied them to fly frozen and encased in freezer bubble wrap home with you. I arrived home with over 40 pounds of salmon – plus my clothes! Best $50 bucks I’ve ever spent.
Two guests were paired with each guide and we fished salmon all morning (or until we caught our limit). After a lunch grilled by our guide, we went back fishing, usually for trout. The largest trout I caught was 28” and the largest one I saw anyone catch was 30 ½” so I didn’t do too badly for being a “rookie”.
After exiting the river around 4 pm, with tired arms but excited spirits, we typically spent time relaxing (which usually meant napping) and telling fish tales. Dinner was always an incredible meal, complete with appetizers, main course and dessert. Chef Josh created some amazing (there’s that word again) dishes from scratch for us that always included meat with a delectable sauce, veggies and rice or potatoes. With full bellies, it was time for more fish tales and an early bedtime. 5:30 am seemed to come earlier each day and I don’t mind admitting that when my head hit the pillow, I was out for the count every night.
We were all totally unplugged. This means no TV (other than with video player for movies) and no cell phone, texting or internet/computer of any kind. Past times were reading magazines and books, playing cards or just talking and it felt old fashioned and wonderful. Because the way I make my living involves using a good deal of technology, being so “detached” felt very relaxing.
Day Trips: Just the Bear Facts Please! Bush plane fly-out trips are available to a number of locations on a first-come first-served basis and start around $300 per person. On our second day of fishing we chose to take a day trip to Katmai National Park – Brooks Camp & Brooks Falls. You can go either by boat (which admittedly takes longer) or by bush plane. Before being allowed to walk the pathways visitors are required to take a 20 minute long bear etiquette class.
- Stay 50 yards away from bears. Stay at least 100 yards away from Momma with cubs.
- Talk loudly as you walk along the paths.
- If a bear does come closer, don’t run. Instead, walk backwards slowly while talking in a firm voice.
- Absolutely no food of any type, including my beloved gum, is allowed in the park. Everything must be left behind in a specially designed storage to keep it safe.
- Bears have the absolutely right of way in this place. They are the Kings and Queens of Katmai National Park and the rangers make no apologies.
- If a bear approaches you as you fish and you have a fish on the hook, immediately cut your line and move away.
After the class we were all given a 100 year anniversary pin that must be worn while in the park. Keeping in mind that an adult male can weigh between 900 – 1400 pounds, I had no problem obeying those rules. In the class they kept calling these episodes with bears a “pop-up” and I thought it was an odd term. How can a 1000 lb. bear just pop up? Well, that’s exactly what they do. It’s like they aren’t there one moment and then next moment there they are. They love to stand on hind legs to get a better view into the river. Quite intimidating I can assure you.
We did have a great big male bear pop-up in the middle of our fishing expedition and he floated right down the middle in between our group of 6 fisherman and 3 guides. Other bears showed up on the banks near where we were fishing and it was heart-poundingly amazing. It was an experience I will never forget. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank our guide Austin, who took me under his wing and taught me some great techniques for casting and how to remain standing in the fast flowing deep river. He was a game changer for me that day or I might still be floating down the river somewhere in Alaska! Thanks Austin!
All of our guides were truly amazing! Tanner was the first day-guide who had the “opportunity” of taking this jittery gal fishing. After that day he was always shouting encouragements to the mint green coat as he buzzed by on his way to some great fishing spot. Then came Jake, who stopped the boat dead so we could observe Momma Bear and her two cubs. We were beyond happy. Next up was Jeremy, with his awesome dog Kimber. That dog would spend the day running from one end of the boat to the other, always ready to assist in the landing of any fish on the end of your line! These knowledgeable and dedicated men who sincerely wanted all their guests to have a memorable week. We sure did.
Before we knew it, the week was over. But those memories will last forever – much longer than the more than 40 salmon fillets. Fish fry anyone?
Wonderful Take-Aways from this Vacation
- Once in King Salmon, I never waited for the bathroom. All the guys did though. How fun is that? It did my heart good (not to mention my bladder)!
- When they gut the fish and save the filets, the rest is dumped back into the river to continue to feed the eco system. Trout in particular will eat up the eggs. Additionally, when the end of the fishing season is near, bears will travel downstream and scrounge the bottom of the river for fish carcasses. Nothing goes to waste in the Alaska wilderness.
- Even the trees have salmon DNA in them.